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Archive for March, 2017

Since this is a busy morning, I was going to play a video of the paintings of a favorite artist of mine, Charles Sheeler. I thought I’d add a replay of a post from several years back that I wrote in case some of you were not familiar with his work. The video at the bottom features his work and Pamina’s Lament from the Mozart opera The Magic Flute.

166_1934_CCI find it hard to believe that I haven’t mentioned the work of Charles Sheeler here, outside of a mention of his collaboration with Paul Strand on  Manhatta, a landmark American art film from 1921.  Sheeler (1883-1965)  is one of my favorite artists who as  a pioneer in photography and painting in the early decades of the 20th century is often called the father of Modernism.  Oddly enough, I am particularly drawn to his industrial imagery which replaces almost all evidence of things natural in completely man-made factoryscapes.  This  might seem to be the antithesis of my own work,  which often omits all evidence of human intervention in my landscapes.

Charles Sheeler River Rouge PlantSome of his most potent work came from an assignment where Henry Ford hired Sheeler to photograph his factories, wanting him to glorify them in an almost religious manner, as though they were cathedrals for the new age.  As Ford had said at the time, “The man who builds a factory builds a temple. The man who works there, worships there.”  Sheeler was impressed with the factory complexes and felt that, indeed, they represented a modern form of religious expression.  His painted work from this time glorified the machine of industry in glowing forms and color.

Charles Sheeler Shaker BarnHe saw the factory as a continuation of the American idea of work as religion, one that was rooted in the sense of  reverence and importance of the barns and structures of the farms of the earlier pre-industrial age.  He   painted many scenes of farms and barns, abstracting the forms as he had with the factory scenes.

Charles Sheeler Classic LandscapeI don’t know that I completely agree with Sheeler on his idea of the factory as cathedral but I do have to admit to being awestruck in the presence of large factory structures.  I remember working in the old A&P factory, a huge building with a roof that was somewhere around 35 acres in size. It was said to have the capability to produce enough product each day to feed everyone east of the Mississippi.  It no longer exists. A large shopping center now stands in its place.

Some of the huge rooms in the building were amazing to stand in, as the machines hummed and throbbed while workers hustled about servicing their needs.  I particularly remember the tea room which was a huge cavernous space with row after row of steampunk looking machines from what looked to be the 1920’s that bagged the tea then sewed it shut.  I cleaned these machines for several weeks and, standing in the grand space in silence after most of the workers had gone and the machines turned off, felt that feeling of awe.   I would sometime walk around from area to area, just taking it in.  I didn’t necessarily adore it in the manner of a religious zealot but there was no denying the  power in its magnitude and the power of the machine.

Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to Sheeler.  Maybe its his use of form and color.  I don’t know.  I guess it doesn’t really matter.  I just like his work. Period.

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Not knowing how near the truth is, we seek it far away.

Hakuin Ekaku

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Wise words from Hakuin Ekaku, the 18th century Japanese Zen Buddhist master. You have probably heard of his famed kōan ( a short story, statement or question meant to test a Zen student’s progress) that basically asks: What is the sound of one hand clapping? 

Heady stuff. But today we’re focusing on two of his thoughts, the one at the top and this gem:

At this moment, is there anything lacking? Nirvana is right here now before our eyes. This place is the lotus land. This body now is the Buddha.

We are creatures of desire and envy. We want constantly what others have, somehow thinking it offers us some intangible that will somehow provide us with lasting happiness. We envy other places, seeing in them qualities that we believe are lacking in those places we now occupy and believing that those places will provide a higher level of happiness or contentment.

But is happiness better found in more things or in far flung places? As Hakuin points out, in this moment, is there anything lacking? What prevents you from knowing what your happiness or what your truth might be?

Those two things–truth and happiness– are interior qualities. No place or thing can provide lasting truth or happiness. The secret is in not straining for these things but in recognizing that they are at hand, available if only you open yourself to them.

You may still want to to improve things in your life, acquire things or even physically move. But remember that they are not the way to contentment because it is already here, wherever that might be.

I write these words as a reminder to myself. I am as susceptible as anyone to falling to the lure of thinking that I can find happiness in external things and places. But a simple reminder helps me remember the happiness found in simple things, in recognizing the good things present in the humblest moments.

I thought about just that the other day. I was trudging through the mud outside my studio, a common thing at this wet time of the year. At first, it made me cringe and grump about it for a bit. Then I wondered why it bothered me so. It was part of the place that is a very important piece of my life and simply a product of the ever changing seasons. Soon it would be dry and grass would again be growing. I changed my point of view and felt a pang of happiness in that wet moment.

Contentment.

Simple things are not necessarily small things.

And vice versa.

And maybe that’s the message of the new painting at the top, a 24″ by 18″ canvas that I am for the moment calling Seek and Find : We can seek far and wide to find the thing closest to ourselves. 

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Again, I am busy this morning but want to share something from one of my favorites and an influence on my work, Grant Wood. I’ve written about his work here in the past, about how his treatment of his landscapes really affected the way in which I approached my own. There is always such a great rhythm and a beautiful harmony of color and forms in his work. They seem like living beings.

The painting shown here on the right, Near Sundown, which was once owned by Katherine Hepburn, was a piece that really sparked me early on. The impression of it in my mind and memory still informs how I treat a lot of the elements in my own work.

This is a nice video with an interesting song backing it.  It’s a folk pop hit, Greenfields, from The Brother Four from back in 1960. It was a song that went all the way to #2 on the charts when it came out but it’s a song that I had never heard. Well, maybe I’ve heard it and just plain forgot it. That’s a definite possibility. It might not have been my first choice as the soundtrack for this video but it gives this a kind of neat, kitschy feel.

Give a look and enjoy the work of Mr. Wood. Have a great day.

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Rules: Replay

I wrote the following post back in early 2009.  I am replaying it today just as a reminder to myself to not get too caught up in my own set of rules for my work.  I have to tell myself to remember that sometimes it’s the straying from the norm that creates the new norm.

GC Myers-  Solitary Crossing- 2009

 

Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it.

     –Henry David Thoreau

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I have always had a problem with adhering to rules, in practically all aspects of my life.  It’s as though when a rule is presented, a part of me automatically starts figuring out an exception to the rule, a way to go around it.  In everyday life this is not always a desirable trait, often putting one at odds with the law and one’s own conscience.

But, as luck would have it, this trait is indispensable in art.

It’s always amazing to me how many artists are tied to their own set of rules and nothing can deter this adherence, even if straying a bit might actually cause their work to really blossom.

For example, I know a painter who will generally only paint what is before him, either in person or in photos, and will not add or subtract any detail from the scene.  He once showed me a painting that was really painted beautifully, rich and bold. Everything worked well and the piece was really eye-catching except for a telephone pole that bisected, in a very intrusive fashion, the very middle of the canvas. It was a real distraction that threw off the whole weight of the composition and stripped away a lot of the appeal that it might hold.

Why is this pole here?” I asked.

He gave me a quizzical look then said, “Because it’s there.

He explained that it was in the scene as he had photographed it. When I asked if it had any purpose in the painting he said that it didn’t but it was part of the original scene as he saw it.

There was a certain realization that came from this brief exchange.  I realized that there were truly talented artists who can sometimes be shackled by their own rules and that absolute adherence to any arbitrary rule can be the death of creative expression.

Now, I’m sure there will be those who would argue this point and would be able to point out any number of examples that might contradict this statement.  So what? They are mere exceptions to this loosely formed rule.

So, kids, here’s the moral of this story:  In art, keep the rules around as guidelines, but when you need to paint outside the lines or cut out that ugly pole that is breaking up a beautiful scene, just do it.

PS: I would probably amend the wording in Thoreau’s quote to damn fool. Those two words seemed forever linked in my mind. Besides, if you’re a fool there’s a pretty good chance you’re a damn fool.

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I finished this new painting a couple of weeks ago and it has been a piece that I’ve spent a lot of time looking at since its completion. It satisfies me on many different levels and simply raises a certain contentment within me. I guess that would be the textbook definition of what I am trying to do for myself with my work.

When I look at this piece, following the river upward where it converges with the sky with the sun at the center of it, I see a winged angel-like figure. This was not by design and it has become the focus of the painting for me. Perhaps this even adds to my engagement with this piece.  That and the overall warmth of the colors and the pull towards the center created by the sky and sun.

There’s just a quality of attraction and completion in it for me that keeps me looking at it.

I was trying to name this piece while I was looking for a suitable bit of music for this Sunday morning selection. While I am not sure this will end up being the final title for this painting, I thought that the title from a somewhat obscure Bruce Springsteen song might fit.

The song is Lift Me Up and it was written in the late 90’s for a film, Limbo, from filmmaker John Sayles.  The song is a quiet, almost pleading, song that features Bruce singing throughout in a falsetto that takes on a lovely and mesmerizing quality as the melody engulfs it.

I think it’s a nice fit for this painting, at least for this morning. I also threw in a companion song this morning.  It’s a beautifully quiet version of If I Should Fall Behind that brings most of the other band members, including the late Clarence Clemons, forward to solo on the lyrics. Nice stuff. Have a good day…


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I’ve been very busy recently and haven’t had chance to write as fully as I would like.  I’ve been doing this long enough that writing the blog has become habit and I feel a little guilty when I think I’m not attentive enough.  But I have tried to alleviate some of my guilt by sharing some things that I do like. Like the video below of the work of Marc Chagall set to the music of Mozart’s Piano Concerto #23 Adagio.

I’ve always been a fan of Chagall’s work. It’s hard to not let myself get caught up in the world of Chagall’s paintings. It’s easy to happily absorb yet you’re never quite sure what it is that you’re taking in. Something magical and mystical there.

Enjoy…

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I was going to write something this morning about the craziness going on in the current administration. But after a while I began to think that there was no point in it. Those of you who see things as I do with me would nod in agreement.  

And if you still believe there is a single bit of honesty, decency, empathy, or any other positive qualities residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, then you most likely will never be swayed by my opinion.  If you honestly believe that this person cares about anything but himself and the fortunes of a few friends and family members, then you and I reside on two different planets, my friend. 

So, to spare myself the aggravation, I decide to focus on an old favorite who I’ve neglected in the last year or two, blues legend John Lee Hooker. I wrote the following here back in 2008 and didn’t include any of his music.  I was new to this blog thing and didn’t even know how to embed a video at that point. So, here’s that post with the music.

Have a good day, if you can.

I remember coming across an old John Lee Hooker album at a used record shop on Market Street in Corning, NY in the 1970’s.  It was a beaten piece of vinyl titled Folk Blues.  I was just a kid and had no idea who John Lee Hooker was but the album cover had a certain gritty, real feel to it and besides, it was only a buck.

It was from the early 60’s, scratched and worn,  and I remember the pops and crackles when I first put down the needle.  Didn’t sound hopeful but when his guitar and rhythm section kicked in on songs like Bad Boy and Rock House Boogie ( both tracks from the early 1950’s) it was pure magic.  It was simple, direct and raw. The guitar sound was like downed power lines arcing in a storm.

I was hooked by Hooker.

To the casual listener, Hooker’s music could seem repetitive and narrowly focused but to me that was the genius of it.  His reexaminations of certain grooves revealed nuance and subtlety that could be easily lost in the distraction of an insanely hypnotic rhythm.

I view my work at times like Hooker’s music.  There is sometimes repetition of form, of compositional elements but that is by design.  Because I am working in a defined form it allows me to spend more creative effort on nuance– texture, color subtlety and quality of line.  The result is a piece that fits easily into the body of my work but has its own feel, its own life.  Its own groove.

As John Lee would say, boogie, chillen…

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