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Archive for April, 2015

Theodore Rousseau- Under The Birches  1842

Theodore Rousseau- Under The Birches 1842

It is better in art to be honest than clever.

–Theodore Rousseau

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Theodore Rousseau (1812-1867) was part of the Barbizon school of painters, an art movement in 19th century France that was instrumental in moving away from from formalism and towards naturalism and artistic expression of emotion.  It was very influential on many of the painters who later created the Impressionist movement.

Rousseau and Jean-Francois Millet, best known for his peasant scenes, were the two artists from this school whose work really spoke to me, seeming to have honest emotional content in them.  Perhaps that is why his short quote resonated so strongly with me.  That and the fact that I have found myself less impressed with cleverness than honest expression through the years.  I have always believed that art comes from tapping into the subconscious, something other than the part of our brain that produces conscious thought.

I guess I just don’t think we are that smart.  Or clever.

I know I am not.  My work is at its best when it comes from a place of honesty and real emotion, when it is made with more intuition than forethought.  When it is too thought out and directed it begins to feel stilted and contrived, losing its naturalness and rhythm and becoming heavy-handed.

That is probably the reason I tell young or beginning painters to focus not so much on the actual idea of a painting but more on things like paint handling and color quality, those things that make up the surface of a painting and convey the real meaning of the painting. And I think that is what Rousseau was probably getting at in his terse quote.

But maybe not.  Like I said, I am not that clever.

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GC Myers- ReflectingThis is a new painting that has been grabbing my eye here in the studio lately.  It’s a 16″ by 20″ canvas that I am calling Reflecting for now.  It will be included in my solo show, Native Voice, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria which opens June 5.

The title comes from the light and form of the arc of the foreground that seems to be reflecting the light and form of the moon above.  But it is also refers to the posture of the Red Tree as it seems to be gazing  into the sky.  For me, it has a feeling of  great pondering, of both looking outward and inward.

Reflection is, after all,  the act of turning one’s thought on itself to discover its true reality, like looking in the mirror and wondering who the hell that person is who is looking back at us.  The Red Tree here is a reflection of the moon which itself reflects the greater power of the sun which, in a way, might reflect the ultimate power of the universe. And maybe that is what this is ultimately about–  looking for traces of that universal power in our  earthly self.

I will have to reflect on that for a bit…

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Nepalese man Trapped in Rubble Photo by Narandra ShrestaIt’s been heartbreaking to see the tragedy taking place in Nepal as a result of a massive 7.8 earthquake and subsequent huge aftershocks that rocked this Himalayan nation over the weekend. I’ve never been to Nepal and there is a good chance that I may never see it but I feel a small connection to this distant nation through my work, which hung in the American Embassy in Kathmandu for several years.  Plus, I have met a number of folks who have been there and they always speak of their experiences there in glowing terms.

It’s hard to even imagine the destruction caused when a chunk of the planet about 35 miles wide and 75 miles long is suddenly shifted 10 feet.  But the images coming from Kathmandu fill in the blanks– tremendous physical damage, horrible injuries and mounting loss of lives– over 3700 as of this morning and sure to keep rising.  Rescue efforts continue but it is a hard slog given the lack of resources and the remoteness and relative inaccessibility of Nepal.

Maju Deval Temple, Kathmandu- Before and After  Earthquake

Maju Deval Temple, Kathmandu- Before and After Earthquake

There were also cultural tragedies, including the total destruction of the Maju Deval Temple in Kathmandu.  It was built in 1690 and had survived beautifully through the previous 325 years until the quake reduced it to a pile of rubble as seen in the photo above. On Mt. Everest, there is still no true accounting of the total number of climbers and guides lost when the quake caused massive avalanches in the high peaks.

It can be frustrating, watching a tragedy such as this from such a long distance.  We want to help but there seems to be so little that we can do from half a world away.  But there are reputable charities that are geared up just to help in situations such as these, having resources ready to go in a very short time and their people on the ground in the devastated areas within hours.

And they need your help in order to help others.

There is a local Nepalese charity called the Soarway Foundation, that was created in part by the honorable Scott DeLisi, our former ambassador to Nepal and a man who I have had the honor of corresponding with over the past several years. They have an infrastructure in place in that nation and any money donated will have an immediate impact on the earthquake’s victims.

Two other of my personal favorites are Oxfam and Americares, both of which take very little from your donations for things like administration and fundraising.  Both are very quick to action also.. And of course, there is the Red Cross, although most donations go into a general fund to help around the world.

So give if you can to this nation that needs a helping hand at this time.

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black coffeeTime for some Sunday morning music and since I was up extra early this morning the idea of something to pick me up seems like a good idea.  Something like some black coffee.

Not the drink, though I am sipping my coffee as I write. I mean the song.

The sultry Black Coffee was written in 1948 by Sonny Burke and originally recorded by Sarah Vaughan and a few years later by Peggy Lee. There have been many, many covers of this song and most are very good. But there are four versions that really stick out for me, all very distinctly different. They are Vaughan’s original, the one from Peggy Lee, k.d. lang‘s darkly twangy version and the one I am featuring this morning from the great and grand Ella Fitzgerald.

Her version is elegantly spare with her voice and piano interweaving beautifully. It is darkly tinged but there is such strength in her phrasing that it keeps the song feeling surprisingly upbeat. Just a great, great song.

A little bit of trivia about this version: It was the favorite song of Nobel Prize winning poetess Wislawa Szymborska , who requested it be performed at her funeral. You might remember Szymborska from a blog entry here last month that featured her poem Possibilities.

So,give a listen as you sip the morning beverage of your choice.  Maybe a little black coffee…

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GC Myers -Simple Glory 2004I have a long list of things to be done this morning.  Since time is short, I thought I’d rerun a blog entry from back in early 2009.  It concerns the question of how long it takes to finish a painting, a question that has been asked of me many, many times. I usually tell the story of a commission I did for a Finnish diplomat a number of years back and how the work I did on that piece became the template or rehearsal for a larger piece soon after.

The answer that I gave in 2009 still pretty much applies although I have noticed that in recent years that it is taking me longer to finish paintings.  I tend to dwell on them a little longer now and am more apt to set them aside so that I can simply consider them before forging ahead.  But there’s even a variable in that– sometimes the energy and direction of a piece is so determined that there is a danger in losing its momentum by setting it aside.

So there is no one answer to the question.  Here’s what I wrote six years back:

I am asked this question at every opening and gallery talk:  How long does it takes to finish a painting?  

This is a question that I’ve answered a thousand times and I still have to stop and think about my answer. 

You see, there are so many variables in my painting technique at different times that sometimes the actual process can be much longer or shorter on any given painting.  Sometimes I can toil over a piece, every bit of  the process requiring time and thought.  There may be much time spent just looking at the piece trying to figure out where the next line or stroke goes, trying to weigh each move.  Then there are times when the painting drops out effortlessly and I’ll look up after a very short time and realize that it’s almost complete. Any more moves from me and the piece would be diminished.

I often cite an example from a number of years ago.  I had been working on a series of paintings, working with a particular color and compositional form.  Over the course of a month, I did several very similar paintings in several different sizes from very small up to a fairly large version.  Each had a very distinct and unique appearance and feel but the technique and color was done in very much the same way.

One morning at the end of this monthlong period, I got up early and was in the studio at 5 AM.  I had a very large panel prepared  and pulled it.  Immediately,  I started on the panel.  Every move, every decision was the result of the previous versions of this painting I had executed over the past month.  I was painting solely on muscle memory and not on a conscious decision making thought process.  I was painting very fast, with total focus, and I remember it as being a total whirl.  The piece always seemed near to disaster.  On an edge.  But having done this for a month I trusted every move and forced through potential problems.

Suddenly, it was done.  I looked over at the clock and realized it had only been two hours.  Surely, there must be so much more to do.  

But it was done.  It was fully realized and full of feeling and great rhythm.  I framed the piece and a few weeks later I took it to the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. where I had shown my work for many years.  It found a new home within hours of arriving at the gallery.

I realized at that point that every version of that painting was a separate performance, a virtual rehearsal for that particular painting.  I had choreographed  every move in advance and it was just a matter of finding the right moment when plan and performance converge.

 It had taken a mere two hours but it was really painted over the course of hundreds of hours.

I hope you can see why I always have to think about this question…

[ The painting at the top is titled Simple Glory from 2004 ]

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Running Free

GC Myers- Running Free smIt’s been a kind of hectic week here in the studio, just plain busy mixed in with the unavoidable distractions that life sometimes throws at us.  In the chaos of yesterday, I realized that I was remiss in not mentioning that my nephew, Greg, had run in his first Boston Marathon on Monday.

He has run for quite some time now as a recreational runner and in recent years has blossomed, finishing near the front in some races and winning a few along the way.  Even in his early forties, his times have kept improving due to his hard work and dedication to his running.

So it was a thrill Monday to have the race on as he ran in the rain on those Boston streets.  Throughout the race, I kept getting text messages with his times at different points in the race and was impressed by the constancy of his pace which hardly wavered at all throughout the day.

At the end of the day, in less than idea conditions with rain and wind, he came across the line in a personal best 2:53:40.  That placed him at 1348 overall out of a field of about 30,000 runners and 160th (out of about 2700) in his class– an impressive finish for his first effort on the hallowed course.

I was really proud to see Greg have such a great effort and to have a satisfying result to go along with it.  It’s a wonderful thing to witness someone achieving personal bests through their own hard efforts. My hope is that Greg’s three young sons understand the great lesson he is setting before them and will use it to find something of their own to focus on and work hard at so that they may set their own personal bests throughout their lives.

That would make this race even more of a personal triumph.

So, well done, Greg.  Long may you run.

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Brancusi The Kiss Phila Museum of ArtOne day in Switzerland, in front of a beautiful mountain there was the most beautiful of cows, and she was contemplating me in ecstasy.  I said to myself, ” I must be someone if even this cow admires me.”   I came closer; she wasn’t looking at me, and she was relieving herself.  That tells you what you need to know about fame.

–Constantin Brancusi

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This was a favorite anecdote of famed sculptor Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) concerning an incident as he took the long trek on foot from Bucharest to Paris as a poor young man seeking fame and fortune.  He found both but the influence of his peasant roots in Romania remained with him.

His story of the unimpressed Swiss cow is a pretty good reflection on the nature of fame, even the type acquired through great deeds,  Fame is something created by other people, not something that is displayed on oneself. When all is said and done, we’re all pretty much the same– famous or not– in the eyes of that peeing cow.

It reminds me of when I first began showing my work in a gallery while I was still working as a waiter in a pancake house.  I would go to openings and people would praise my work, telling me how great I was.  I could barely get in my car to drive home because my head was so big by the end of the evening.  But at 6 the next morning, there I was, pouring coffee for truckers and families who were less than impressed by the praise lavished on me the night before.

A big pin prick that brought my head quickly back to a more normal size.

Those folks at the restaurant were my peeing cows.

It’s a lesson that I try to remember when things are going too well and I find myself beginning to believe that I am something more than what I really am– a simple schlub watching a cow pee.

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