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Archive for December, 2017

Spirit in the Night

New Years Eve, folks, and an end to 2017.

Thank god for small favors.

I’ve been recalibrating here at the end of the year, as I’ve explained in some recent entries. I’ve been revisiting old works and writings, trying to blow off the shell of complacency and rediscover that urgent need that drove  my earliest creativity. This also has me re-examining early influences in all things– art, movies, literature and music.

To that end, I found myself watching a couple of hours of old performances early this morning from Bruce Springsteen, mostly grainy black and white films from the 70’s. It may sound odd but Springsteen’s work, his performances and his rapport with his audience throughout his career have informed much of what I have tried to create in my own career. From the first time I saw him perform over 40 years back, I was enthralled by his commitment to growing his work, his complete effort in every performance and his desire to reach out to every member of his audience.

The consistency of his work and his desire to seemingly give more than his audience expects every time speak volumes to me.

So, to end this year I thought I’d go back to a performance at the Capital Theatre in Passaic, NJ in 1978 and one of my favorite Bruce songs, Spirit in the Night, from his first album. It’s great to watch Bruce interact with the audience here.

Have a good New Year’s Eve and let’s hope for better things in 2018.

 

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Hank’s Lost Highway

The year is coming to an end and for me it’s a time of reflection. I reposted a piece yesterday on that subject and this post from back in 2009 speaks to that same theme. Plus, anytime I can look at a Hopper painting and listen to one of my favorite Hank Williams songs, it’s a good post to revisit.

Whenever I see an Edward Hopper painting I feel a bond with him, as though he were a kindred spirit in a world full of alienation.  There is always a great sense of distance in his paintings.

Aloofness. Looking out but looking in.  A disengagement of sorts from the wider world. Even in his cityscapes, one feels as though they are miles away from anyone else.

I suppose this disengagement may be the reason I and many others choose to communicate in paint. With few exceptions, I have seldom felt inclusion in many groups of people, always feeling a bit like an outsider. And while I have actually become comfortable in this position, always bearing a sort of suspicion toward groups or cliques, the need to be heard drives my painting.

Even in a world of alienation, one wants to have their say.

In my paintings, I sometimes see this aloofness in my red tree and the way it is often portrayed as a single figure in a large space. Sometimes the pieces reflect a celebration of the self and self-reliance but sometimes there is this sense of a Hopper-like alienation. The solitary character just wanting to be heard.

I don’t see this as being a sad portrayal. There’s much more I could say on this but I think that’s enough for the moment.  Here’s a song from the great Hank Williams that kind of speaks to this subject.  It’s Lost Highway, a song that is, for me, one of the most transcendent songs Hank ever recorded, a song with a spirit that feels new and alive even today, even with its early ’50’s production values.

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Is It There, Again?

I am at the point of the year where I am constantly questioning what I doing, looking back at the past year’s work and determining in which direction I want to move ahead into the new year. It’s a sometimes frustrating exercise, especially when I find myself still lacking in areas where I had hoped to grow or where there are paths of aspiration still unexplored. But frustrating as it might be, it’s part of how I work. 

I came across this entry from several years back and it reminded me of a question that I sometimes forget to ask these days, one that must be addressed even though its answer is basically an abstract notion. But it is a question that must be asked or the work begins to lose purpose and meaning.

GC Myers- First View 1994It’s that time of the year when I get to take a deep breath and begin to look forward into the next year, trying to determine where my path will lead next. It’s never an easy time doing this, trying to see change of some sort in the work especially after so many years of being what I am and painting as I do. It always comes back to the same question: What do I want to see in my paintings?

That seems like a simple question. I think that any degree of success I may have achieved is due to my ability to do just that,  to paint work that I want to see myself, work that excites me first. So I have been doing just that for most of my career, painting pictures that I want to see. But there is another layer to the question.

What am I am not seeing in my work that I would like to see? What is it that I need to see?

That’s a harder question. How can you quantify that thing that you don’t know, might not even have imagined yet?

It might be a case of  knowing it when you see it.  I know that my first real breakthrough was like that. I was simply fumbling along, looking for something that nagged at the edge of my mind. I wasn’t sure what it would look like, had not a concrete idea of what it might be. It was just there in a gaseous form that I couldn’t quite grasp.  But when the piece emerged in a tangible form– which is the painting at the top here, First View, from 1994– I instantly knew what it was that I had stumbled on  and that it was something that  very important to me.

It might not look like much to the casual viewer now but in an instant I could see in this little painting everything I was sensing in that gaseous, intangible form that hovered at the edges of my mind. I could see a realization of all of the potential in it. Even now, after years of evolving from it, I can see how it connects to everything in my work, even those things I had could not yet see when I painted it.

And that’s where I find myself at the moment. There’s something out there (or in there, I probably should say) that I want to see, might even need to see. But I don’t know what it is yet. But I will know it when I see it.

And, trust me, I do plan on seeing it.

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Been taking a little hiatus but still wanted to post something today, maybe just a simple song. I spent quite a bit of time this morning listening to music on YouTube, doing that thing where you keep choosing an obscure but somehow related video on the right side, seeing how far it can lead you down a twisting rabbit hole of oddball songs and forgotten genres. I heard a lot of songs I haven’t heard in years, some good and some not so much.

It was going pretty well and I thought I had my choice when out of the blue, the YouTube algorithm turned up this song from 1979’s Monty Python’s Life of Brian. I knew I had my choice for the day. During the Falklands War in 1982, the British naval ship HMS Sheffield was hit and sunk by an Argentine missile. As the crew was waiting to be rescued, the crew broke out singing this song and it has become tradition among British troops in dire situations.

So whether it’s sinking ship or a nation stumbling along at the end of an odd year, it might be the right song for the day. It made me feel better this morning. Feel free to sing or whistle along…

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Driving Home For Christmas

Wishing everyone out there a peaceful and comfortable day.

Here’s a holiday song that doesn’t get a lot of play here in the States. From 1986, it’s  Driving Home For Christmas from Brit Chris Rea. I have been a fan of his work from the days of his work in the 80’s and this song really works on many levels. So many newer  holiday songs try so hard and apply so much schmaltz that the things just seem to flounder around without ever taking flight. This song has strong wings.

Give a listen and have a great day.

 

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I wanted to play a Christmas song for this week’s Sunday music and thought I’d replay a song that first ran here back in 2009. It’s Must Be Santa from Bob Dylan. It’s a great song, a polka with a klezmer feel and in the the entertaining video you get the bonus of seeing Dylan dance. Good fun for the day before Christmas.

While looking for an photo or two to accompany this post, I browsed through masses of images of Santas from the past and was amazed how many of them crossed that line into outright creepiness. It made me believe that Santa is just about on par with clowns in creep factor. You might see a rogue clown in the woods but Santa is, simply put, a bearded home intruder ( and flamboyant dresser) who slides down your chimney in the dark of night. He knows when you are sleeping, for god’s sake!

I picked a few that are pretty strange. I left out some that actually made me cringe and feel a little queasy. I have a feeling that many of their photos are also in some sort of registry somewhere.

Anyway, enjoy the song and have a good holiday evening. And don’t worry about the weird old man hovering around your home tonight…

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The painter Pieter Brugel ( 1525-1569) is a favorite of mine,as the color, composition and rhythm of his work quickly draw me into his paintings. I had seen images of the painting above a number of times and had enjoyed it every time by just absorbing it as a whole. But knowing just a few facts about it make it even more interesting.

It’s titled Census at Bethlehem and is from 1566. It certainly refers to the Christmas story of Joseph and Mary arriving in Bethlehem. They are depicted in the lower central part of the image, Mary on a donkey led by Joseph. But it is apparent that this is not the proper time or place for the story for the biblical tale. It is a Dutch/Flemish scene  fifteen hundred years in the future. But it turns out that this was not unusual for Bruegel. He often took myths and tales from other times and cultures and placed them in contemporary settings.

It is also suggested that this painting was a veiled criticism that compared the governance of the Netherlands, marked by heavy taxation and a rough suppression of Protestantism, under the Spanish king, Philip II, to that of the Roman Empire in the Biblical era in Judea. This was painted just a few years before a revolt against Spanish rule broke out.

Seeing this as a political protest adds a layer to its depth. But however you might look at it– as a simple peasant scene, political screed or religious allegory–for me it is a feast for the eyes.

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I’ve been under the weather for most of this week, which is never grounds for throwing a party. But maybe there’s an upside here in that it keeps me from spending too much time dwelling on the work of the past year and in which direction next year’s work will head. That is something I tend to do a lot at this point on the calendar as we get ready to turn the corner into the new year.

It’s a constant evaluation of how I see my work and it run s the spectrum depending on my mood and confidence level. I fear that if I did it now, I wouldn’t fare too well against my own judgement.

Thinking about this reminded me of a post from about 5 years ago after I had sat down for a radio interview. You can hear that interview here. The advice I talked about then is as applicable now as it was twenty years ago. I sometimes forget these important things…

Another thing from the Out of Bounds interview that I wanted to expand on was my answer to Tish Pearlman‘s question as to what advice I  might give to aspiring artists. I said that I thought that they should paint the paintings that they wanted to see. I think there needs to be a little more depth to that answer.

Earlier in the interview I had said that I was influenced by a wide variety of imagery from many great painters and illustrators to advertising and film and television. Any visual input had some influence. I spoke of deeply saturated colors that I had seen maybe 25 years ago in a Coca Cola ad on TV, colors that still dwell in my mind. There are hundreds of little nudges that push you towards that perfect, idealized  image that you maintain in your mind but is never quite fully captured. I know that’s how it was for me.

I would go into museums and look at great works of art and absolutely love so many of them yet still felt that none was exactly an expression of what I was feeling or who I was. There was always a lingering feeling that there was work that was closer to the hazy criteria my mind presented, work that I still wasn’t seeing. It was this feeling that led me to the conclusion that I would never find what I was looking for by trying to paint in the style of other painters. If their work was what I was looking for to begin with, why even paint? It seemed to me that too many artists are satisfied by simply doing work that resembles other work, safe in the accepted pack, rather that taking the gamble on stepping away from it.

But I wanted to step away and to do so I would have to assess what I was as well as what I wasn’t. By that, I mean I would play to what I felt were my strengths and not waste too much energy on my weaknesses. I knew that anything that would be close to what I wanted to see had to come from a total belief from within and that trying to do things that were not who I was, which would be a weak area in my abilities, would diminish the whole thing. No, it needed a total commitment from myself.

I guess what I am saying it that aspiring artists need to focus on what they believe they want to see and use their strengths to try to achieve that end. By concentrating their efforts on their strengths, a natural style or voice will evolve. If they accept this voice with a real belief in its validity, it will soon be as natural as signing their name. They will soon be able to celebrate the things that make them different than others, rather than striving to be like them.

I don’t know if any of this is making sense this morning. I’m sure some of the above will ring true to some and ruffle the feathers of others. That’s art  for you. It’s more mystery than science. I might be right or wrong or both. Depends on who’s looking…

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Silent Night

Mystery of the Unseen

Slowly on the mend and in my weakness somehow let some useless trivia find its way into my head. It seems that the song Silent Night is the most recorded holiday song of all time, having been recorded 137,315 times.

Maybe it’s because I don’t feel great but all I can think is “ugh.”

The reaction has nothing to do with the song itself. It’s a lovely song and there are worse songs that could occupy its spot as the number one holiday song. Imagine 137,000 versions of Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer— I don’t think I would ever feel well again.

It just feels like 137,000 versions of any song might be a few too many.

As it is, you could start listening to versions of Silent Night this morning and you would still be listening to them a year from now, even if the asylum you’re in lets you listen to it around the clock.

So, let’s hope for a hiatus on future versions of the song. But before shutting the door on listening to it, give a look and a listen to what I think is a definitive version from the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. This is a wonderful performance and her face is as expressive as the music and lyrics.

 

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Skating

Been way under the weather the last couple of days but wanted to at least share something this morning. And what can be better this time of year than some Vince Guaraldi music from A Charlie Brown Christmas? This is Skating. Have to admit, it made me feel a little better.

So, if you’re not feeling up to par or are just down a bit, maybe it will work for you as well. Give a listen– what do you got to lose?

 

 

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