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Archive for March, 2016

GC Myers- Deep Focus  Reading about Carmen Herrera, the artist I featured here yesterday who was “found” at age 89 and is still actively painting at 100, brought some thoughts about the idea of retiring to mind.  While it’s not something that I dwell on, I am at that age when one begins to think about such things.  In the last year or so,  at different times I have been asked by a couple of friends who are not artists, one who is my age and is retired, if I was thinking about retiring.

The question kind of surprised me each time I was asked.  I mean, I know that it’s a possibility and I do the things that one should do when planning for retirement in a financial sense.  But being asked about it caught me off guard.

But giving it some thought made me realize that retirement was not the end point I was shooting for in my life.  In fact, I can’t imagine ever retiring from what I do.  How could I put aside that thing that has given me purpose, that thing that connects me to this world and gives me expression?  Why would I stop searching for answers to  questions I haven’t even asked yet?

The whole idea of retiring seems like a foreign concept to me and my life as it has come to be.

In fact, as I’ve gotten older, I find myself looking for more and more time in which I can continue my work.  Time has become a more and more precious commodity.  Any time spent ill or in pain is time taken from this work so I have began actively working harder at being fit and healthy.  I hate giving up time for working out or walking.  I would much rather be working but knowing that it is required for continuing my work longer into this life makes this a valuable investment.

Seeing Carmen Herrera at work at  100 years old, even  in her wheelchair, and the many other artists who worked into their 80’s and 90’s gives me hope for this idea of never retiring.  Looking around the studio, I realize that there is so much more work to be done.  Work that I feel I must do.  Each day seems to uncover more and more facets to be probed, more questions to answer.  There is just not enough time in this life and I am not going to give up until that sun on the horizon leaves and fails to rise the next morning.

So hopefully, if I am lucky enough, you’ll see me several decades down the line, still at work.  And happy for it…

 

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Carmen HerreraThey say if you wait for the bus, the bus will come.  I say, yeah, I waited 98 years for the bus to come and nobody cared about what I did.

Carmen Herrera

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Carmen Herrera RondoThe words above are from a documentary called The 100 Years Show starring Carmen Herrera from filmmaker Alison Klayman.

It tells the amazing story of  artist Carmen Herrera‘s persevering belief in her art, a belief that kept her at work without acknowledgment for over 60 years before the art world finally took notice. She sold her first painting at the tender age of 89 and for the past decade she has enjoyed the accolades and attention so long overdue.  She continues to work to this day.  On May 31 she turns 101 years old.

Carmen Herrera was born in Havana in 1915.  Through the 1930’s and 40’s she split her time between Cuba , Paris and NYC, studying and immersing herself in the vibrant post-war art scene.  Her work just never seemed to be in the right place at the right time or was overlooked  because of her gender or ethnicity.  She tells of a conversation with the owner of a well-known NY gallery, Rose Fried, who acknowledged that Herrera was superior to the painters she had in her stable but she would not give her a show because she was a woman.  I can’t imagine how disheartening or confusing that must of been for her but , as she says, Rose Fried is dead now and she is enjoying the fruits of her long labor.

Besides she didn’t think the world was ready to receive her work.

So she continued to paint full-time without any acknowledgment and in 2004, an old friend recommended her for a show of female geometric painters at a NY gallery.  The show brought her work to light and revealed how she was among the pioneers of the genre, the dates of many of her works making them milestone pieces in the evolution of geometric minimalism.

So at age 89, she had her breakthrough.  Galleries and museums vie for her work  now and she still paints on a full-time basis.  It’s an amazing story and a great lesson in staying true to your belief in your own expression.

As they say, if you wait for the bus…

At the bottom is a teaser for the film:

Carmen Herrera 1 Carmen Herrera 2

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GC Myers- In the DreamlightI’ve dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas: they’ve gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind.

Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

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This is another new painting that is slated for my annual show, Part of the Pattern, at the Principle Gallery which opens June 3.  I call this piece, a 36″ by 12″ canvas, In the Dreamlight.  It has, at least to my eye, a contrasting feeling of vague dreaminess along with one of ultra-clarity.  Kind of like the feeling of those dreams that I have had that linger with me for years afterward.

I think we may have all had those dreams, those visions that reveal some mystery and spark some sort of inner questioning.  I still vividly remember several dreams from my childhood and, much like Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights character Catherine’s words shown above, they have altered the color of my mind.

Often, I find myself flashing back to those dreams, rerunning and experiencing once again portions of them in my present mind.  They are often enigmatic and filled with a mystery that begs to be answered.  And my mind believes they are answerable if I look long and hard enough.

In some ways I believe that is the purpose of my work– to somehow uncover the answers to these dreamed questions.  If the dreams are symbolic, might not the answer be found in a like symbolism?

As it is with all so  many things, I don’t know the answer.  But this painting reminds me of that feeling, that sense of being so near to the center of the mystery yet never quite being able to truly know the answer.

But maybe if I look once more, I will see what I’m seeking…

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Slovakian Resurrection Icon circa 1640

Slovakian Resurrection Icon circa 1640

It’s Easter Sunday.  Resurrection Day.

I’ve said it before here, I am not a religious person.  I wasn’t raised with religion and much of my knowledge of it as a kid came from a local lady, Nellie Beidelman, who used to come to our little elementary school on a regular basis.  We would assemble in the cafe-gym-a-torium ( a space that served all three functions) to hear her tell Bible stories with the aid of a felt board with beautifully painted cut-out figures.

I know it’s not something that could ever take place today in a public school.  But she was a very warm, gentle person and a fine storyteller without being preachy.  I always found the stories interesting as they introduced me to the classic tales of the Old and New Testament and still vividly remember her telling of the Resurrection.  It didn’t make me feel any more inclined toward religion but at least I knew the stories and the lessons that they contained.

I just never had that certainty of belief.  I admired it in others and sometimes wished I had it.  But that same certainty made me uneasy.  What would someone do in the name of their belief, that thing that seemed so certain to them and so distant to me?  The news is filled with horrors perpetrated by those with this certainty firmly in place, whether it’s ISIS inspired suicide bombers or radical Fundamentalists killing physicians who have performed abortions.

And reading history doesn’t make this uneasiness with certainty go away.  How many of millions have perished at the hands of those who were certain in their beliefs, however misguided and wrong they may seem to us now?  Even in doing my genealogy I have come across so many atrocities done by my ancestors in the name of their beliefs that it makes me question the decision to look into the past at all.

That being said, I still sometimes envy those with that certainty and the comfort they seem to find in it.  My own beliefs, as they are, are always subject to questioning, always filled tinged with a bit of uncertainty.  But they still offer a degree of comfort.  Sometimes stopping as I walk and feeling the sun on my skin and gazing into the blue of the sky fills me with a feeling that seems transcendentally reverent in that moment.  The outer world fades for a brief second and I seem connected with something greater than this time and place.

That moment is my certainty, that thing on to which I hold as proof of something greater.  And that moment once in  a great while is all I ask of it.

So, with or without that certainty, whether you observe Easter or any other religion’s activity today, I wish you a great day.  But stop once in a while and just feel the sun on your skin and notice the color of the blue in the sky.  For this week’s music, here’s one of my all time favorites, Down in the Valley to Pray by the late great Doc Watson.  The simple elegance of his voice just carries this song for me.

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GC MyersFaeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame. 
W.B. Yeats, The Land of Heart’s Desire

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I was going to write more about this new 18″ by 18″ canvas but after coming across the verse above from the first performed play from the great Irish poet/playwright William Butler Yeats, I thought I’d let those words speak for it alone.  I see these four lines in this painting and that’s good enough for me at the moment…

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GC Myers- String TheoryThis painting is an orphan, one of those few pieces that ended up back with me here in the studio after making the rounds of the galleries.  I don’t mind that it came back as it has always held a special place in my heart– orphans have that effect on me.  I like the roughness of its surface, the deepness of the colors in the sky (which are so hard to capture with my photography) and the contrast of the scene’s quietness against the turbulence of the sky’s energy.

It now hangs in a seldom used hallway here in the studio so I don’t see it as often as I would like.  But when I do wander down that hall I often stop and take it in and it inevitably makes me both smile and think.   It has a very tactile nature with a strong texture that makes me run my hands over it, almost as though I am trying to reach into that swirling mass of energy to connect with some hidden dimension.

Here’s what I wrote about this painting several years back.  It a redux of a redux, in a way, as it references yet another earlier post, one back in 2009:

I call this new painting String Theory. It’s a 20″ by 40″ canvas that is simple in design but has great depth of color and a strong underlying texture that gives it added dimensions. It’s a striking piece in the studio, especially given its larger size, with its saturated tones and the thick spiral bands that run through it catching glints of light at different angles.

The Red Tree’s crown is painted as a monolithic form and seems to glow with life amid the contrasting darkness of the sky. I chose a deep red for the color of the fields in the foreground because I wanted it to represent the earth as a physical dimension, the red symbolizing the blood of the living. The swirling blues and greens of the sky, to me, represent a different dimension, one less tangible and more ethereal.

As for the title and the thought behind it, I described this in a blogpost from July of 2009. I think I will let the words from that post describe what I see here as well:

The title of this painting comes from the way the sky is formed from many patches of color and the way the light is formed therein. It reminded me of one of the supposed byproducts of the string theory which is a very speculative area of quantum physics. Without going into the scientific basis for the theory ( which I really couldn’t do very well anyway), string theory basically creates a platform where extra dimensions could and may exist alongside the dimensions that we know and dwell within, without our knowledge of their existence. A simplified example of how this might work is the way we are surrounded by radio signals all the time without our knowledge but with the proper receptor, a radio, they become apparent. With string theory, perhaps there are also parallel dimensions around us without our knowledge, dimensions that contain others forms of energy, other forms of existence.

People have used this as theoretical basis for many things such as time travel, the existence of UFOs, and things supernatural such as ghosts and other spectral occurrences. The string theory has been a very fertile field for science fiction writers to work.

Perhaps it also provides a place where the soul, the source of energy that animates the body, ultimately dwells. Perhaps there is the energy of souls all around us in these alternative dimensions. Maybe the photons we see are also the part, a facet, of something unseen. That’s how I see the sky in this painting, as masses of disparate energies that we only see partially in the dimensions we can detect.

Okay, remember that it is early in the morning when I’m writing this. I’m not smart enough to really discuss quantum physics. I am not familiar with all the New Age-y spiritualism. I’m just saying there is some form of energy out there in the light we see. What it is, I surely don’t know. In this painting I like to see it as light and energy of souls.

And that makes me feel good…

It made me feel good then and does now as well.

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Harald Sohlberg-Night 1904 There’s a good possibility that you haven’t heard of  Harald Sohlberg, a Norwegian painter who lived from 1869 until 1935.  I know he was not on my radar until I stumbled across a few of his images.  In fact, there is not a lot of info about him outside of a short perfunctory bio.

This kind of stumped me but it wasn’t until I came across the short essay shown below that this made sense, giving me a lot more insight into the man behind the work.  I particularly identified with his connection with the landscape and his feelings as expressed in the final paragraph where, as an old man, he desired that people see his work not for the simple scenes they seemingly portrayed but ” for the pictorial and spiritual values on which I have been working consistently throughout the years.”

As an artist, that is your greatest hope– that people will look beyond the surface and see the emotional and spiritual content that the artist uses as a catalyst.  Take a moment and read this essay from a 1995 exhibit at the National Academy of Design in NYC that featured the work of Sohlberg and Edvard Munch.  At least take a moment to give these few Sohlberg’s paintings a good look.

In an obituary, Pola Gauguin [son of Paul Gauguin and a painter and art critic of the time] wrote that as an artist, Harald Sohlberg was alone and forgotten: “A name which was famous in its day.” Now that Sohlberg was dead, Gauguin thought, “the coldness which he helped surround it with, will thaw.” Sohlberg’s isolation was partly the tragic result of his wholehearted endorsement of the myth of genius as formulated by Romanticism and adopted by the Symbolists. Like Munch, he was obsessively preoccupied with denying that the influence of other contemporary artists had been important to him. He dissociated himself from the discussion about where he belonged in the history of art, relegating the origins of his artistic awakening outside of art to his own psyche.

Sohlberg wrote that his form sprang forth subconsciously from his first awareness of the landscape. The difference in texture of the sky and earth gave him a sense of standing on a heavy and firm planet gazing out into boundless space. He attributed the simple forms and great lines of his pictures to this first awareness of the landscape. The point of departure was the personal experience. Thus, the artist’s experience of his subject preceded the picture. Sohlberg was preoccupied with the concrete local landscape that surrounded him and his emotional reaction to it. The place, in itself, was charged with meaning. For this reason, where he sought his subjects was important. He experienced the landscape in Norway as nature in strong and intense moods and gave form to the echoes of these moods in his mind. He agreed with many of his generation who, taking their point of departure in Andreas Aubert’s writings about Norwegian art, were of the opinion that there existed distinctive, Nordic colors, clear and strong colors created by the clear, intense light of the North. Once artists realized this, it would be possible for an independent Nordic art to develop. Sohlberg believed that, along with the unique construction of the Nordic landscape, local color ought to result in a style of its own. Experience and interpretation of nature determined the choice of colors. For Sohlberg, the main color should assemble the picture and be as strong as possible.

The function of line in painting according to him was to express feelings. It could be lonely, down to earth, or melancholy. It could be willful and persevering as required. It should be developed according to the nature of the subject and the artist’s dialogue with nature. Because the picture was bound by a perceived reality, Sohlberg paid tribute to reality by portraying it naturalistically. But his gaze carried with it the legacy of picture formulas that transformed and adapted nature. He was an artist who rarely put a stroke on the canvas before the picture was clear to him in his imagination. As an artist, he was a substitute viewer. What interested him was his own experience and interpretation, regardless of how naturalistic his pictures appeared to be. Ideally everything in the picture was controlled by his will.

As an older man, Sohlberg longed for confirmation that the public saw the values he wished to impart: “it is probably true that for simple and naive reasons my works have aroused sympathy. But I maintain that they have by no means been properly understood for the pictorial and spiritual values on which I have been working consistently throughout the years.” The quotation contains three words which are keys to an understanding of Sohlberg: “Pictorial,” “spiritual,” and “consistently.” The pictorial is means for expressing the spiritual, and one was obliged to stick to the spiritual values one held true. 

– From Ivind Storm Bjerke, Edvard Munch, Harald Sohlberg: Landscapes of the Mind

Harald Sohlberg-A Street in Oslo 1911Harald Sohlberg-Night in the Mountains 1914Harald Sohlberg- After The Snowstorm Harald Sohlberg-Storgaten_Røros_1904

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