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Archive for February, 2017

I thought I’d share a post from several years back where I showed a painting at several stages in its progress.  It was finally titled Game of Life and remains a favorite of mine.  Below is the blog entry that was based on the beginning of he process.  At the bottom are several photos that show it in progress.

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This is a new piece that I started over the weekend.  It’s a fairly large canvas, 24″ by 48″, gessoed and blackened before I began to lay out the composition in the red oxide that I favor for the underpainting. I went into this painting  with only one idea, that it have a mass of houses on  a small hilltop. That is where I began making marks, building a small group of blocky structures in a soft pyramid. A little hilltop village. From there, it went off on its own, moving down the hill until a river emerged from the black. An hour or two later and the river is the end of a chain of lakes with a bridge crossing it. We’ll see where and what it is when  it finally settles.

I like this part of the process, this laying out of the composition. It’s all about potential and problem-solving, keeping everything, all the elements that are introduced, in rhythm and in balance. One mark on the canvas changes the possibility for the next. Sometimes that possibility is limited by that mark, that brush of paint. There is only one thing that can be done next. But sometimes it opens up windows of potential that seemed hidden before that brushstroke hit the surface. It’s like that infinitesimal moment before the bat hits the pinata and all that is inside it is only potential. That brushstroke is the bat sometimes and when it strikes the canvas, you never know what will burst from the rich interior of the pinata, which which is the surface of the canvas here. You hope the treats fall your way.

One of the things I thought about as I painted was the idea of keeping everything in balance. Balancing color and rhythm and compositional weight, among many other things, so that in the end something coherent and cohesive emerges. It’s how I view the process of my painting. Over the years, keeping this balance becomes easier, like any action that is practiced with such great regularity. So much so that we totally avoid problems and when we begin to encounter one, we always tend to go with the tried and true, those ways of doing things that are safest and most predictable in their results.

It’s actually a great and safe way to live. But as a painter who came to it as a form of seeking, it’s the beginning of the end. And as I painted, I realized that many of my biggest jumps as an artist came because I had allowed myself at times to be knocked off balance. It’s when you’re off balance that the creativity of your problem-solving skills are pushed and innovation occurs.

It brings to mind a quote from Helen Frankenthaler that I used in a blogpost called Change and Breakthrough from a few years back:  “There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about. ”  

 You must be willing to go outside your comfort zone, be willing to crash and burn. Without this willingness to fail, the work becomes stagnant and lifeless, all the excitement taken from the process. And it’s that excitement  in the studio that I often speak of  that keeps me going, that keeps the work alive and vitalized.

It’s a simple thing but sometimes, after years of doing this, it slips your mind and the simple act of reminding yourself of the importance of willingly going off balance is all you need to rekindle the fire.

This is a lot to ponder at 5:30 in the morning. We’ll see what this brings in the near future.  Stay tuned…

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GC Myers- The ConversationWhat did the tree learn from the earth
to be able to talk with the sky?

Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions

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I think that much of my work has to do with asking questions.  Not necessarily about getting answers, mind you, but about making inquiries about those motivations and meanings of the world, both inner and outer. About trying to create a dialogue, a give and take between the worldly and the ethereal.

And that questioning, that conversation, is what I see in this simple, small painting.

Will there ever be an answer?

That can only be answered with another question: Who knows?

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leningrad-gas-mask-drill-1937This old photo I recently came across fascinates me.  From 1937, it depicts a gas mask drill and the participants are the Pioneers of Leningrad.  The Pioneers were a Soviet youth organization similar to the Boy Scout movement of the west.  They learned skills related to civic and social cooperation with social gatherings and summer camps in order to create good, loyal Soviet citizens.

Beyond the obvious weirdness of the image, the photo carries the haunting thought that just four short years later many of these young people would most likely perish in the Siege of Leningrad.

For 900 days, the Nazis held Leningrad, which it had been unable to take by force, in siege attempting to starve the city into submission. Over a third of the city’s population- over 800,00 people– died during the Siege.  Most died from the depths of starvation that found the citizens eating anything at their disposal– sawdust, wallpaper, and any and all pets.

It’s a horror that is hard for us, so far removed from that place and that war, to fathom yet it happened just a little over 70 years back.  Some of those children in the photo, if they were fortunate to survive the war and the siege, could easily be alive today. I am sure when the photo was taken they felt strong and prepared to face whatever adversity lay ahead. They had no idea what the future truly held.

For today’s Sunday morning music I am using a song that relates in a way to the photo. It’s Red Army Blues from the Irish band The Waterboys‘ 1985 album, A Pagan Place.

The song tells the story of a Soviet soldier in WWII who somehow survives the war and comes in contact with American troops.  Joseph Stalin felt that troops who were taken prisoner were weak and traitors to the Soviet state and that troops who came in contact with Allied troops were in danger of being Westernized. So after the war, many Red Army troops who had been held as POWs or had much contact with western troops were considered a threat to the state and were sent directly to the gulags where many would die while working and starving in forced labor camps. We’re talking in the millions here.

I bring up this dark page in history because of our current head of state’s recent warming up to Russia where Vladimir Putin has began reintroducing Stalin era thinking to that country. Time and fading memories have made the horrors that Stalin inflicted on his people somehow palatable. The gulags, the purges, and the artificial famines that killed millions of Soviets seem to be a distant memory now and there is actually a bit of nostalgia for Stalin. Hence, Putin’s rise.

But the memory of these things, these atrocities against his own people and humanity, should never be relinquished.  If forgotten they are only a moment from becoming the present.

This is a pretty interesting video of Red Army Blues with a lot of great Soviet footage of that time which means that some of it is grisly and disturbing. Unfortunately, that is what much of our  history entails. It’s worth a listen and a view.

Have a great day

 

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GC Myers- Freed ThoughtThe omnipotence of evil has never resulted in anything but fruitless efforts. Our thoughts always escape from whoever tries to smother them.

Victor Hugo

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I call this new painting, 10″ by 20″ on panel, Freed Thought.

Like many people, I am concerned with what is happening in this country and around the world as ideas such as nationalism and authoritarianism take hold in more and more places.  That is a scary thought when you consider the horrors that took place in the first part of the last century–world wars, civil wars and genocide– as a result of these ideologies.

Perhaps we are just far enough removed from that time that we allow ourselves to conveniently forget that bit of history. Or think that it doesn’t apply here and begin to believe that this time will be different, somehow treating us to a much more pleasant result.

I think a lot of people fall into that second category, the It Can’t Happen Here camp. That is easy to understand and easy to swallow, not requiring much work or thought.

Keep your head down, don’t make waves or ask too many questions, and it will all be fine.

Unfortunately, that is the fodder for those with evil intent.  To those who seek control, who want to rule over— not govern–people, this unquestioning attitude is as enabling as the ardor of their most loyal adherents.  They are the most easily managed and most easily convinced because they don’t want to stand out alone, away from the others in any way.

Those with evil intent then try to keep this easily led herd away from those who disbelieve, who choose to remember history and see the ghosts of the past in the actions of the present.  Those who would stop them from achieving their goals– both publicly stated and those whispered in the darkness. This is done by controlling the message, creating false realities and fostering doubt in one’s own observations and beliefs.  Destroy trust in all institutions and all information except for that coming from the singular ruling voice.

Oh, it can happen here.

But I take some solace in the words above from Hugo and from history itself. Every movement, however powerful and far reaching, that is based on the darker angels of greed, deception, and exclusion eventually fails. An empire based on falsehood is unsustainable and will eventually succumb to truth. Truth and thought can never be fully controlled. They will always find a way to break free.

The downside in all of these cases is that many, many people are ultimately hurt along the way. And I worry that this is the direction in which we are headed.

That is why it is so important to come clear of the other trees that shade your views.  Stand freely and ask the questions that need to be asked and answered.  Remember that every evasion from a question is a step away from the truth. The truth has nothing to hide, doesn’t need to be concealed or evaded.

A thought based in truth will always stand tall and will not be obscured.

So, for god’s sake, ask the questions and demand the answers. But most of all, use the power of thought and think.

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jamie-wyeth-infernoWhile I’m a much bigger fan of the work of his father and grandfather, Andrew and N.C. Wyeth respectively, I do like many paintings by Jamie Wyeth.  I came across a video that shows him at work in his Monhegan Island studio on a painting titled Inferno which depicts gulls swarming around a boy as he stokes a trash fire that blazes in a burner made from an old fuel tank.

I was surprised, for instance, by his use of a large sheet of corrugated cardboard as his surface as well as by the way he uses watercolor paint in the same manner as an oil paint.  Even if you don’t paint, the video is an interesting insight into the physicality of his process. And if you do paint, it may make you want to consider a different way of approaching your next piece. Give it a look.

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GC Myers- Canyon of DoubtsCreativity requires introspection, self-examination, and a willingness to take risks. Because of this, artists are perhaps more susceptible to self-doubt and despair than those who do not court the creative muses.

Eric Maisel

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This new painting, 8″ by 10″ on panel, is called Canyon of Doubts. For me, it represents the navigation that takes place in the creative process as the artist tries to get past the formidable obstacles of self doubt.  Doubt often throws up barriers that has the artist asking if they are good enough, if they have the talent, training, and drive to create true art that speaks for them to the world. Doubt makes them fear that they are out of place, that they don’t belong, that every other artist has more right to create than them.

Doubt keeps the artist seemingly boxed in with no apparent way forward.

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Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.

Kahlil Gibran

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I’ve been trapped in that canyon many times. I’ve thought many times that there was no way out, that the fears posed by my doubts were the realities of who and what I was.

I have always felt alone with my doubts.  Words of encouragement from others often felt hollow when I was lost in those canyons.  They didn’t know how steep the walls of doubts seemed to me or how inadequate, how ill-prepared I felt in that moment.

The only option that seemed available to me was to trust that I could somehow fight my way out of those daunting canyons. It would mean mustering every bit of talent, every ounce of energy, and a sustained belief that I deserved to have my voice rise from out of  those canyons. It was matter of  either having the faith in my own value as human to find my way free or withering away in a canyon of doubts.

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Your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must become knowing, it must become criticism.

Rainer Maria Rilke

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I still find myself in those canyons. I still find myself periodically looking up at the walls that surround me and wonder if I am talented enough, strong enough, or even entitled to escape them.

But I now know that there is a path through them, one that is well worn with my own footprints from my past journeys in that shadowed place.  I know that, even though it is lonely and seemingly unbearable in that moment, I don’t have to be trapped in that place of doubt.

I’ve traveled this path and there is indeed a way out.

It takes time and effort and devotion.  It takes the belief in yourself, forged from past experience, that you will make the right decisions and not be trapped in those walls.  It’s in having the faith that when take a wrong turn, when you make a mistake, that you will recognize it and get quickly back to the path that sets you free.

At the moment, I may well be in that canyon still but I have the moon guiding me and its light shows me where the canyon ends.

And then I will be free once more.

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You Ain’t Alone

GC Myers- Observers (with frame)

I normally don’t replay past entries from the blog on Sundays but I thought this week I’d make an exception. I very much like this entry, written a few years back after the opening of one of my shows, and share it with a small alteration to the original post by changing the music from the original Hold On from the Alabama Shakes to their song You Ain’t Alone. Both songs are great and fit with the painting above, at least in my mind.

Sunday morning and I think I’m much more decompressed than yesterday morning after the show.  All back to normal, whatever that is.  This show has made me think on a wide variety of subjects, about purpose and meaning beyond what I see in the work as well the potential for legacy in these paintings– would they endure into the future?

A good friend stopped in the studio yesterday and we talked for a moment about the subject of legacy.  I pointed out that legacy is a big if for any artist and that I can only do what I do — where it ends up in the future is something that is far beyond my own control.  It could be in enduring collections or it could be in garage sales and dumpsters– you never know what the vagaries and tastes of the future hold.  I witness this all of the time when I go through the  records from the auction houses and see painters who were celebrated in their time who are now basically unknown.  Their work sells for a pittance, far below what one might expect from reading about their fame when alive.

As an artist, you can only hope that your work has a transcendent quality that allows it to live out of the time of its creator and be of the time in which it is viewed.  I don’t know how you do that outside of maintaining consistency in your own vision and hoping that it is one that somehow speaks to those in the future.  But there is always the question  that if your work does move ahead, does maintain life and attracts future collectors, what would your legacy work be?

I know that this a fool’s game– no one has the ability to predict that future for their own work.  You can’t be objective when you are so close to it, can’t discern your own personal feelings for it from how it reads to the outer world.  But there are pieces that I see that nag at me, that have a weight that tells me that they may be vital pieces in a potential legacy.  Pieces that I could see easily living in the future.  There are a number in the current show, including the piece above, Observers.

These pieces have an intangible quality that I wish I could more fully understand so that I could better describe it.  Or capture in a way  so that it would be in all of my work.  There is just something that seems beyond me, something that is beyond this time.

Could I be wrong?  Of course.  I have been wrong many times in the past and will no doubt be wrong in the future.  But for my work I can hope that in this instance I am correct and that they hold on.

Actually, this was all just an elaborate lead in for a little Sunday  morning music , some soul stirring from the Alabama Shakes and lead singer Brittany Howard.  It is a song titled, of course, You Ain’t Alone.

Have a great Sunday!

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