Archive for January, 2016

Mavis StaplesFinding some sort of joy in one’s life might well be the answer to most of life’s questions.  It nourishes us and gives meaning to the moments of our lives.  It makes us want to face the new day.

That state of joy is a mighty potent force.

There are people who exude that joy from their very being and I think singer Mavis Staples is one of those people.

Had a chance to see her show last night in Corning and her joy in this world and her music seemed obvious to me.  At age 76, she has a new album, Livin’ On a High Note,  coming out in February and she just rolls on.  Over sixty years of performing and the effects of advancing age can’t diminish her in any way on that stage.  Just a powerful force.

One of the highlights of the show was her performance of Freedom March, a song written back in 1963 by her father, Pops Staples, to mark the famed Freedom March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in that year.   For this Sunday Morning Music, I thought I’d share an performance of it from a few years back. Good stuff.

Have a great Sunday and try to find a little joy of your own…



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GC Myers- Small Remembrance Group 2016 smWithout memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.these

Elie Wiesel


I recently finished this group of small pieces for the upcoming Little Gems show at the West End Gallery in Corning.  Called Small Remembrances, they are all tiny paintings, coming in at only 1 1/2″ by 2 1/2″ in size.  Like many of the tiny pieces I have done over the years tend to remind me of small snippets of memory.  I tend to think of memory as tiny bits and pieces, individual images and bits of film that tell small stories of themselves before fitting into any sort of larger continuum.

When I assembled these Small Remembrance pieces together as a group I was struck by their cohesion and relationship to one another.  The quote above from Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winning authorcame to mind.  This past Wednesday had been International Holocaust Remembrance Day and his always eloquent words were already on my mind.

There’s a darkness, a somberness, in these small pieces that fits here.  While we might prefer that it be so, memory is not confined to the bright and happy nor should it be.  Each memory, regardless of its size, by its very nature has an importance, an effect.  Memory of our past shapes our future.

So while these may be tiny and may be insignificant in many ways, they have a purpose and a meaning that goes beyond size.

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This quote from Leonard Bernstein came back to mind when I recently  ran across this post from several years back.  It’s a big part of what I do and seeing it again serves as a reminder that feeling that sense of place is vital in achieving work that I feel has life in it.  Off the top of my head, I can’t recall where this painting finally found a home but I am hoping it is serving its caretaker as well as it served this post which I am reposting today.
GC Myers - A Strange and Special Air 2011“Any great art work … revives and readapts time and space, and the measure of its success is the extent to which it makes you an inhabitant of that world – the extent to which it invites you in and lets you breathe its strange, special air.”

—Leonard Bernstein


I came across this quote from Leonard Bernstein that I really thought captured what I hope occurs in my work.  I think that my work is most successful when people allow themselves to feel themselves as part of the landscape before them, to enter and breathe in that strange and special air, as Bernstein describes it.  I know that this is the case for myself.  I have written about this here before, about how these landscapes, with their blue and orange fields and bright red trees, feel as real to me as looking out my studio window.  The fact of the blue in the field is overruled by its harmony within the composition which creates that sense of rightness to which I often refer.

Maybe this sense of rightness is what makes up that strange and special air.  I don’t know. I only know that I still seek words or explanations to describe why a painting works, by which I mean has an emotional impact on the viewer.  The new painting above is such a piece for me. It’s a 15″ by 25″ image on paper that I am calling, thanks to Mr. Bernstein, A Strange & Special Air.

I could sit here and try to break down the painting, talking about color and contrast, texture and depth.  Line quality and composition.  All of the things that I might momentarily consider while I’m at work on such a painting.  But when all is said and done, I still have no idea why it has its own life, its own strange and special air.

Except that I feel that I am there, transported into that strange and special air,  when I look at it.

And glad of it.

Perhaps that is enough and all that needs to be considered. For now, I accept that and will be satisfied to dwell in this landscape with its strange and special air.

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GC Myers- Moses ( I Supposes)Sometimes when I am walking over to the studio in the morning I will have a song stuck in my head.  Sometimes it is one that I recently heard, something from the radio.  But sometimes it’s one that just springs deeply from the past, something I haven’t thought of in some time.   That’s how it was this morning.  And thinking of that song linked me to a small painting that I did many years ago.

They just fit together in my mind for some reason.

The song was It Ain’t Necessarily So, the great song sung by the slick drug dealing Sporting Life in George and Ira Gershwin‘s Porgy and Bess.  Just a fantastic mix of sound and wordplay.

For some unknown reason, when I hear this song this old piece from over 20 years ago always comes to mind.  It’s a piece that I did very quickly, not really knowing what I was trying to paint.  It just sort of popped out and  I remember calling it Moses( I Supposes).  There was something about this piece that I have always liked. Maybe it’s the I-don’t-give-a-damn way way everything in it is painted, from the giant hands down to the giant feet.

It’s just a personal favorite that somehow always springs to mind when I think of this song.  Maybe because Moses is mentioned in a verse in the song–

Lil’ Moses was found in a stream
Lil’ Moses was found in a stream
He floated on water
‘Til Ole’ Pharaoh’s daughter
She fished him, she says from dat stream.
I don’t know for sure but I enjoy the combination.  Here is one of my favorite versions of the song, the one from the Simon Rattle directed version from the Glyndbourne Festival with Damon Evans as Sporting Life.  Have a great day and remember– not everything isn’t necessarily as it seems to be.

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GC Myers- Icon: Mary TOne of the things I am trying to emphasize with this current Icon series is the fact that we are all flawed in some way, that we all have deficiencies and stumbles along the way.  Yet, uncovering these faults in my research, I find myself holding affection for many of these ancestors that dot my family tree.  Perhaps it is the simple fact that without them I would not be here or perhaps I see some of my own flaws in them.

I’m still working on that bit of psychology.

The 12″ by 12″ canvas shown here is titled Icon: Mary T.  She is my great-great grandmother.  Born Mary Anne Ryan  of Irish immigrant parents in the Utica area she married Michael Tobin, an Irishman ( I believe he was from County Kerry but the research is still up in the air on this) who came to the States around 1850, right in the midst of the Great Irish Immigration.

Michael worked on the railroads being built throughout central New York in the late 1800’s.  Following the progress of the railroads, the couple and their growing family worked their way down through the state towards Binghamton, NY where they eventually settled.  Mary Anne eventually ended up as a housekeeper in a prominent home in the area.  Michael died around 1890 although records are sketchy on this and Mary died at my great-grandmother’s home in Elmira in 1914.

All told, they had seven daughters and three sons.  Most worked in the then booming tobacco industry of that time and place.  Most of her daughters worked as tobacco strippers  and some worked as cigar rollers, as did her sons.

That’s the simple telling of the story.  Looking into the back stories provide a little more depth which can sometimes change all perceptions.

None of her sons ever married and all were had desperate problems with alcohol.  One son was listed in a newspaper report from some years later as having been arrested for public drunkenness around 40 times over the years, seven times in one year.  He was also arrested for running a still more than once during the prohibition years.  Two of her sons died in institutions where they had been placed for their alcoholism.

A Silk Spencer

A Silk Spencer

I came across a story in the local Binghamton newspapers about Mary and two of her daughters, who were also working as domestics with here in the prominent Binghamton home owned by a local attorney and nephew of the founder of Binghamton .  In 1874, the story reports that a number  of items came up missing, including a “forty dollar silk spencer,” which is a sort of short garment like the one shown here at the right.  Neighbors informed the owner of the spencer that Mary had a number of the stolen items in her possession and a search warrant was sworn out.

Detectives came to the Tobin home and made a thorough search but turned up nothing.  They then tore up the carpets which revealed a trap door that led to a small basement.  There they found many of the stolen items but no spencer.  But they did find a silk collar that had been attached to it.  Mary and her two daughters were arrested.

Mary did finally claim to be the sole thief and her daughters were released.  I have yet to find how this particular story ends and how Mary was punished but based on the futures of some of her children I can’t see it being a happy ending.

Doing this painting, I was tempted to make my Mary a bit harsher, a lit more worn.  But as I said, there’s some sort of strange ancestral affection at play even though I know she was obviously a flawed human.  She’s smaller and more delicate looking in the painting than I imagine she was in reality. But maybe that’s little payback for the information her story reveals about the future of my family.

This is a simple painting because, as I pointed out, this is a simple story at its surface.  It’s the story of many, many families.


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august-sander-man-on-street-portraitI was listening this morning to the song 20th Century Man from The Kinks.  Released in 1971 — don’t do the math, it’s a long time ago– it is a song of a man decrying his existence in a time in which he feels he doesn’t fit.  Ray Davies may have felt that he would have been more at home in the 19th century but the odd thing is that the song’s words still fit very well for someone like myself whose life consists of mostly time spent in the 20th century.

Even though we’re well into the 21st century– that new century smell has pretty much worn off by now– I am still basically a 20th century man.

It struck me that the next generation that is quickly coming of age and into their own will be a group born in the 21st century, never experiencing a second in that distant time.  I never gave that a thought before but their time will be spent entirely in a time unlike mine or people of my age.  The 20th century might be just a distant thing to them, a source of old people’s memories and dry historic fact.


And maybe that’s a good thing.  I don’t know.  For as pivotal as the 20th was in so many ways, it was mightily flawed and maybe trying to see the world beyond its lenses will be refreshing.

Hey, let me hope, okay?

So for this Sunday Morning Music here are The Kinks and 20th Century Man.  The accompanying photo which jumped off the screen at me is from the great German photographer August Sander who I will be discussing here in the near future.

Have a great Sunday and enjoy your time in the 21st Century…

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"La Vigne Rouge"- The Only Painting Sold in Van Gogh's Lifetime

“La Vigne Rouge”- The Only Painting Sold in Van Gogh’s Lifetime

I came across an interesting little film, Painting in the Dark:The Struggle For Art in a World Obsessed With Popularity, from video essayist Adam Westbrook that speaks about the life and struggles of Vincent Van Gogh.

While already a well documented tale, one with which many of us are very well acquainted, Westbrook uses Van Gogh’s life in a way that makes us question whether we would have the same sort of inner urge to continue creating without the encouragement of others.  Van Gogh, after all, basically painted for an audience of only himself and his brother throughout his entire creative life yet painted incessantly, producing work at a prodigious pace.

Autotelic DefinitionHe also introduces us to the word autotelic, taken from the book, Flow, from famed psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  The word refers to a self contained activity, one that is not done with the expectation of future benefit, but simply because the doing itself is the reward.  In short, it’s what you do when you are your only audience, when you are the only one who can judge the work.

I think of my current Icon series in that way, even though I have been sharing the work here.  It is done solely for my own pleasure and satisfaction, without a thought of trying to please someone else with it.  It’s just something I have to do and what will become of it is of no concern to me at this point.

There’s something very liberating in that but whether I could sustain this passion for it through a decade of hardship is a difficult question, one that I hope to never have to face.

This film is a little over 10 minutes in length and very well done so if you have the time, take a look.  If you like the work of  Adam Westbrook check out his site which contains his video essays, delve.  Or his regular website. Or if you would like to lend financial support, you can visit his page on Patreon.


The Long Game Part 3: Painting in the Dark from Delve on Vimeo.

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GC Myers-  Icon: FrancoisMy current Icon series has been a real pleasure for myself in that it’s refreshing to work on pieces that I realize are only for myself, not worrying if they strike a chord with anyone else.  For me, it’s fulfilling to flesh out some of my ancestors and their stories, to give them an image that I an hold on to.  As I’ve said these are meant as symbols– I’m not trying to recreate their actual appearance.  In most cases, there is nothing to work with, nothing that would give me a clue as to how they might really look.  So, this is how I see them in my mind.

The painting at the top is a 12″ by 12″ canvas that is titled Icon: François.  He is my 9th gr-grandfather, born in 1640 in the area around Boulogne, France.  It is on the English Channel not to far from Calais.  He was a soldier in the Grandfontaine Company of the Carignan Regiment,  which was sent in 1665 to Quebec in what was then called New France.  The troops came in several ships, François arriving in August aboard the ship L’Aigle d’Or— the Golden Eagle.

These 1200 troops were sent to protect the new settlements  that France had established and to aide in fort construction along the Richelieu River.  They were also sent in order to help populate New France.  Some were offered money or land to stay in the new country and build a life there.  François, I believe, fell into that category as he showed up soon after in census listings as a master woodworker living in Quebec.  While I am not positive that he received any

incentives to stay in New France, such is not the case with his wife and my 9th gr-grandmother, Marguerite Paquet,  She was one of the Filles du Roi, or the King’s Daughters.  Between 1663 and 1673, King Louis XIV sponsored this program which offered young French women, all single and many orphaned,  free transportation and settlement to New France along with a dowry of money or land in the new land if they agreed to marry one of the men living there.  You see, the first settlers were overwhelmingly male.  I have at least two or three Filles du Roi in my line as do most French Canadians.

François died as relatively young man in 1675 but not before he and Marguerite had three children which set off a long line that runs through Canadian history to today, spawning hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of decendents.

I see François is this painting as an Adam-like character, naked and in a new world that he will help populate,  The brushstrokes radiating from the halo represent the generations that descend from the choice he and his wife made to seek a new life in the new world.  It’s a simple painting and a relatively simple story– at least as simple as you can make one’s entire life into a short tale.

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GC Myers The Journey Begins 2002I’ve always put my work out there on the internet, never getting upset when people use it for their own purposes so long as they aren’t claiming it as their own or selling it in any form.  After all, the whole purpose in doing this is to expose the work to as many people as possible.  Periodically I check to see where it ends up.  It’s interesting to see how several sites use my work on their masts, especially groups associated with archaeology who use my work from the Archaeology series.

The painting above, a piece from 2002 called A Journey Begins, was used back in November to illustrate the winning entry in the 2015 English Poetry Contest  at  Hong Kong Baptist University.  The poem is titled The Lie and was written by Zabrina Lo, a third year student in Language and Literature.  I was struck how well the two pieces of art blended, each fitting perfectly well with  and complementing the other.

Here is the poem The Lie from Zarina Lo:

Her seat has been empty for a year.
Still we sit
together. Not together. Around the table
we eat the tasteless water chestnut cakes
which I insist ordering.
I lie that the plum rain of China in early January
nourishes the jade-like crunchy corms –
the best time to savour this New Year’s dish.

But I am silenced
by the huge heap of sliced cakes that remain
almost untouched by everyone here
except me
and by my father’s empirical science of how autumn, not winter,
is the harvesting season.
Already gone.

But I can’t refrain from lingering on
the past winters when my mother, with her gnarled veiny hands,
insisted on making and filling my tiny childhood plate full with
her – not my – favourite water chestnut cakes.
She never knew that when I said I loved her cakes, I loved
her smile at the sight of me eating, savouring, appreciating her cake –
her world.
That sight gave her bland, unrecognized life the sweetest touch she’d ever known
in our home where water chestnuts never grew, cracked and bloomed
through the floors, walls, ceilings and
outside the window.
She never knew
that the sweetness I tasted was not from the cake
but her heart.

I imagine
that if I listened hard enough I would hear the crunch of water chestnuts
from the empty chair next to me
where she would be sitting and smiling as usual
as if New Year never came,
and that I could tell her honestly
the blissful flavour she thought I liked
was never there
and would never be there again.

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GC Myers- Icon- Peter the ScoundrelThis painting, a new 24″ by 20″ canvas, is titled Icon: Peter the Scoundrel.  This may not be my favorite painting from the Icon series that I’ve been working on as of late but this has been by far the hardest piece for me to complete.  It just kept going and going and I completely repainted the head and face at least six different times.  Each face never felt right and I could not get a handle on how I wanted to portray the person behind this painting.

Actually, I could never get a handle on this person, period.

His name was Peter Bundy, my 3rd great grandfather and he is buried in an old cemetery in Caton, just outside of Corning.  It’s a cemetery that I knew well from my childhood, having spent a lot of time with my favorite cousin in Caton.  In fact, my cousin worked in the cemetery as a teen, digging graves by hand.  I never knew at the time how many ancestors of mine were buried right there but doing research on my family lines I found that there were dozens and dozens of relatives there including  this Peter Bundy.

His grave stone says that he was born in Scotland in 1823 and served in the Civil War with the Ohio 75th Regiment.  Doing a bit of research I found a veteran’s pension record from the 1890’s that stated he had been captured and held at the infamous Andersonville Prison Camp.  That same record listed him as having an aliasCharles McKinney.  My mind began to imagine that perhaps he was a Union spy.

If only it could have been that simple.

A few years passed and one day I had a message about my family line on the Ancestry site.  It was from a family who had done research on their family line and had found that my gr-grandfather Peter Bundy was also their gr-grandfather.  Except that he had a different wife and a different name– Levi McProuty.  It turns out that my Peter Bundy held that name and married  under it in the years before the Civil War.   Living in western Steuben County, they had two children, a boy and two girls, before he ostensibly left in 1861 to serve in the Union army.  A year or so later, his wife was informed somehow that he had been killed in combat.

She and her children never saw him again.

It seems that in the year that he was gone, he had shed the name of Levi McProuty,  married my 3rd great-grandmother, Elizabeth Everetts, and had a child, my 2nd gr-grandmother.  While he may not have even served in the war as Levi McProuty, he did leave for service in the Civil War as Peter Bundy.  He returned to his second wife and child.

However, for the next twenty or so years, he didn’t show up in any public records.  But his wife and child did– his wife under the name of McKinney and his daughter under her married name.  He showed up in some veterans’ pension records  and the census before dying in 1901.  His wife died in 1915.  Both were listed under the Bundy name.

I don’t know if this is clearly written so that you can follow it– I know that it is so convoluted that I have trouble keeping it straight in my head.

So, was he really Peter Bundy or Levi McProuty?  Or Charles McKinney?  Or somebody completely different?  Was he even born in Scotland?  I find myself thinking that he may not have even served in the war, that he may have stolen the identities of other soldiers.  How he ended up serving in an Ohio regiment– Ohio being several hundred miles away– is another question that comes to mind.  Was his time at Andersonville just another lie? I don’t know if anything that is considered factual about this person is indeed real except for the fact that this person, my great-great-great grandfather, lived for a time and died in Caton–that’s on his gravestone.

And that he was a scoundrel.  That is not on his stone.

I think it’s this doubt that fed the troubles I had with this painting.  I could never see a face or a facial expression that suited this person because I never had an idea of his truth.  And just when I thought I would have a sense of him, there was always a new twist with which to contend.  When I had the different faces on this figure I felt a lot of discontent and anxiety, even waking up in my sleep thinking about it.

So yesterday morning, I came into the studio and decided to just simply put him in a mask.   A grinning, mocking mask that let’s me know that I don’t really know him and I doubt that I ever will.



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