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Archive for the ‘Biographical’ Category

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“This is the most immediate fruit of exile, of uprooting: the prevalence of the unreal over the real. Everyone dreamed past and future dreams, of slavery and redemption, of improbable paradises, of equally mythical and improbable enemies; cosmic enemies, perverse and subtle, who pervade everything like the air.”

Primo Levi, If This Is a Man / The Truce

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This small painting has been propped up on a bookshelf, unframed, here in the studio for over a decade. I have walked by it thousands of times, to the point that I barely even recognize that it is there. It was from the Outlaws series in 2008 and was one of the pieces that didn’t make it out of the studio. I just didn’t feel as strongly about it as the others in the series at the time, didn’t feel it carried the same emotional messaging.

But the other day I took it from the shelf and spent some time really looking at it and , all these years later, see much more in it now. It has its own story that I didn’t perceive before, maybe because it seems more like the characters from my Exiles series from 1995 than the Outlaws series of 2008. The Exiles were paintings that focused on loss and grief, of a looking back in time at what has been lost. The Outlaws, on the other hand, were about fear and vulnerability, the characters haunted by unseen pursuers.

The character in this painting seems like a hybrid of the two series, a person who has suffered loss and grief and is haunted by all that they have seen.

I originally saw this character as a male figure but looking at it now, I see it as being more female, one with close cropped dark hair, like it has been roughly shorn. I began seeing this as a survivor of atrocity, perhaps of a concentration camp. Someone who has seen horror and can never quite get far away from that memory.

The past for this person is like a ball that is thrown in the air, seemingly moving quickly away only to always coming rushing back down upon them.

The window here represents the past and the figure seems destined to always peer out at it.

It’s funny how the perception of a piece that I have basically ignored for a decade can change with one closer inspection. What seemed like a lesser piece at one point now seems much more powerful, more laden with meaning and emotion.

I think that when I painted this piece I was aiming for something other than what emerged and, as a result, I always viewed it from the perspective of my preconception. Now I am just viewing it as it is.

And my judgement of it is much different. I will never look at it with that indifference that existed for the past ten years. It now has meaning for me. I’ve even gave it a title: Window to the Past.

Glad I took the time to look again.

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It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So, we must dig and delve unceasingly.

-Claude Monet

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Busy this morning so I thought several haystack paintings from Claude Monet might fill the bill. Those and the quote above which immediately spoke to me when I first came across it.

Art has served as a way forward for me and part of that is allowing myself the time to observe and reflect. I have found that once that becomes ingrained as habit, the digging that comes with this observation and reflection becomes, as Monet points out, unceasing. Actually, more like obsession, occupying nearly every waking moment of each day, along with more than a few others in dreams.

Writing it out, this compulsion sounds awful. But it’s not something I even notice. It just becomes part of one’s natural state of being. And I greatly prefer this state of being over those that existed for me before I began this life in art.

Enjoy the Monets. I have work to do.

 

 

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For this Sunday morning music, it would be hard to not feature a bit of the Irish. It is St. Patrick’s Day, after all. So I thought I’d share a beautiful version of old Irish chestnut, Raglan Road, performed by actress Cristin Milioti. Hardly an Irish name but this is a lovely version of a beautiful tune. (You can click here to see the poetry of these lyrics.) You might recognize her from her work on the second season of Fargo where she played Betsy Solverson, the cancer stricken police chief’s wife.

I thought I’d also replay a post from a few years back about one of my Irish ancestors. As I say in the post, it’s story of many immigrant families. Have a great day. You, too, St. Patrick.

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, I believe, Irish immigrant parents in the Utica area (though some records list her as being born in Ireland) she married Michael Tobin, an Irishman ( it is thought that 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 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, acting on a hunch, tore up the carpets which revealed a trap door that led to a small hidden 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 immigrant families.

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GC Myers Exiles-Bang Your DrumThe switch to Daylight Saving Time really cuts into my prep time this morning. So I am going to share my musical selection for this Sunday along with a rerun of a post that originally ran ten years back. I reran it once four years back but I think it’s worth sharing again. Plus the painting fits the song. So here it is along with The Beat Is Rhythm from Club Des Belugas. As is the case with much of their music, it’s heavy on the beat which is as good a way as anything to give a kick to a dragging Sunday morning.

This is another piece from my early Exiles series, titled Bang Your Drum. This is a later piece, finished in late 1996.  

Initially, I was a bit more ambivalent about this painting compared to the feeling I had for the other pieces of the Exiles series. It exuded a different vibe. For me, the fact that the drummer is marching signifies a move away from the pain and loss of the other Exiles pieces. There is still solemnity but he is moving ahead to the future, away from the past.

Over the years, this piece has grown on me and I relate very strongly to the symbolism of the act of beating one’s own drum, something that is a very large part of promoting your work as an artist.  

For me and most artists, it is a very difficult aspect of the job, one that is the polar opposite to the traits that led many of us to art. Many are introverted observers of the world, passively taking in the world as it races by as they quietly watch from a distance. To have to suddenly be the the motor to propel your work outward is an awkward step for many, myself included. Even this blog, which is a vehicle for informing the public about my ongoing work and remains very useful to me as a therapeutic tool for organizing my thoughts, is often a tortuous chore, one that I sometimes agonize and fret over. Even though my work is a public display of my personal feelings, this is different. More obvious and out in the open.

There’s always the fear that I will expose myself to be less than my work. The fear that people will suddenly discover the myriad weaknesses in my character that may not show in my paintings, forever altering their view of it. The fear that I will be  revealed to be, as they say, a mile wide and an inch deep.  

But here I stand with my drumstick in hand, hoping to overcome these fears and trusting that people will look beyond my obvious flaws when they view my work. Maybe they too have the same fears and that is the commonality they see and connect with in the work. Whatever the case, there is something in the work that makes me believe that I must fight past these fears and move it forward, out into the world.

What that is, as I’ve said before, I just don’t know.  Can’t think about it now– I’ve got a drum to pound…

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She turned to the sunlight

    And shook her yellow head,

And whispered to her neighbor:

    “Winter is dead.”

 

― A.A. Milne,

    When We Were Very Young

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It’s just another reminder of who’s in charge from Mother Nature this morning as the temps here again sit at zero. There’s bright sunshine out there with the angle of the light making your mind believe that Spring is at hand and that, like the words of A.A. Milne in the bit of verse above, Winter is dead.

Stepping out into it, you realize that it was just another cruel trick. The air is sharp like a fresh razor blade. More so because your mind was telling you it would be warmly caressing your skin instead of biting at it.

Well played, Mother Nature. You got me again.

But Spring is coming and the seemingly endless wait will make the arrival of green grass and the first peeks of bulbs breaking the ground all the more special. The beauty of contrast.

The painting above is an old piece from about 1994 or 1995. It was among a small group painted at that time that was meant to have an object serve as a pole bisecting the picture plane with the light seeming emanating from it. Kind of in a Georgia O’Keeffe manner. I did a few of these pieces with imagined flowers or tree trunks.

Don’t know why I didn’t continue following this path because I am generally very pleased with them when I come across them. They have the sense of completeness and color interest that I still seek in my work. But at that point, every day of painting brought so many new discoveries and ideas that it was sometimes hard to decide which way to turn next. I had so many sparks being generated in my head that it would not have been possible to follow them all.

That changes over time, of course. New discoveries are fewer and farther apart. Sparks still come, many with the same intensity, but they create a low banked fire now instead of the roaring blaze that it seemed like when everything was new.

When everything was new…

And that brings us back to Spring. Maybe that’s the attraction, trying to tie one’s own personal renewal to that of the Earth. If so, I will be green again soon.

And that is a good thing.

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Funny how the mind works sometimes.

Lately I’ve been showing some paintings from a new series that features masses of faces. Last week I wrote that these groups of faces reminded me of the artifact from the subterranean layers from my Archaeology series. I thought that was a new observation as was the whole idea of this series.

But yesterday I was going through a bin of old work that I haven’t looked through in years and came across the piece shown above. It was done in the early days of 2008 when I was trying to break from a painting funk as I prepared for my annual show at the Principle Gallery that June. The Red Tree had been firmly entrenched as my trademark in the eight prior shows and I felt that it was boxing me in and that I was running out of gas.

It was becoming harder and harder to create the excitement in myself from the work that was needed to make it come alive.

So I turned to a task that a 5th grade art teacher had given me years before. He gave us large sheets of paper and told us to simply fill them, in pen and ink, with anything that came to mind. It could be simple shapes but he suggested making it a junkyard of objects. So I would start at the bottom of the page, drawing things piled on top of other things until the page was full.

It was an exercise that became a regular thing with me in adulthood as I would doodle this way in the margins of newspapers and in journals. Being blocked as I was back in early 2008, I pulled out a Sharpie and many sheets of watercolor paper. I spent a week or so just filling these sheets and at the end of that time the idea of the Archaeology series evolved from this work.

But since then I had completely forgot that I has did one of these sheets with simply drawn faces. It’s not particularly great in any way. It is rough and sloppy but I can see in it the beginnings of the Multitudes series. Around that time, I was drawing faces with a blunt Sharpie, trying to create an expressive face with as few lines and detail as possible. Here’s are two examples from that time taken from an old art business calendar that used as a sketchbook.

So, the idea that I am currently chasing is not new at all. It was forgotten, sitting in some far corner of my mind, biding its time until I was ready for it. Apparently that time has come.

Funny how the mind works sometimes.

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Walt Whitman: Song of Myself, Part 51

 

The past and present wilt—I have fill’d them, emptied them.

And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?

Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,

(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?

Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

 

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The image shown on the right is another new painting, a 36″ by 18″ canvas that is part of a new group that has drawn a great deal of my attention lately in the studio. They are large groups of faces that are painted in an almost subconscious manner, with little if any forethought given as to how they relate to the surrounding faces. They emerge from dashes of paint and quickly rendered shapes that cause me to simply find human form in them.

It is very intuitive work. It reminds me very much of the process involved in painting the subterranean artifact layers in my Archaeology series. Just make a mark then transform it into something tangible, something possible.

I have known most of these faces for forty or fifty years. They have lived in me, have emerged periodically on bits of paper, on journal pages and in the margins of the newspaper. Some have shown themselves individually in some of my work through the years– the Exiles, Outlaws and Icons series for example.

But they all seem familiar to me. Some possess a pleasant and friendly aura and others much less so. Some are ugly and bitter in appearance. Some even seem evil and worry me a bit, causing me to ask if they are all just variations of my own self.

I don’t really know.

Part of me says yes. I was instantly reminded of the line from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself  (shown above):  Do I contradict myself?/Very well then I contradict myself,/(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Whitman’s grand poem had him speaking as the voice of the collective consciousness of mid-18th century America, a voice that encompassed all sorts of people and attitudes that make up the stewpot that is this country, then and now. As an artist, the hope is that your own work taps into that same vein, that it speaks to connects with the wider spectrum of people. So, in doing this, in attempting to access this collective multitude, to pull them all from your own inner self.  To do so, you have to find that part of yourself that is part of all of them.

Can it be hope and love? Fear and anger? Or just the emotion of being?

I don’t really know.

What I do know is that there is something in this work that seems right for the moment.  Seeing these groups of faces had me wondering how this had slipped by me for so long. It feels natural, like it should have been part of my work for some time now.

So how had I not did this before? I think the answer is that I needed to develop the skills and visual vocabulary to do these pieces in a way that used the faces in the most impactful way. If I had did this years ago, I think it would have been lacking the color, rhythm and forms needed to make them effective. Those are all things that have come from years and many tens pf thousands of hours in the studio. For me, these paintings are a great coupling of subject-these crude faces– and those elements– color, rhythm and form. I find myself attracted as much by the colors and shapes as I am by the individual faces.

I am considering calling this group Multitudes from the line from Uncle Walt. Or it might still be Masks from the for the appearance the faces have with their dark eyelessness.

I am still trying to figure this out so excuse this off the cuff writing. There are a lot of thoughts emerging and growing even as I write this so I reserve the right to change to contradict myself at some later point. Like Walt, if I contradict myself, so be it — I am large, I contain multitudes.

 

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