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Archive for the ‘Biographical’ Category

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Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

–Herman Melville, Moby Dick

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I’m no sailor but I know that feeling, that drizzly November in my soul as Melville wrote. A glumness descends accompanied by an anxiety that cannot be quelled and the idea of being around people sets my jaw hard with my grating teeth. If people still wore hats I am sure I would be aiming to knock them off their heads.

Or worse.

I can’t head to the sea to alleviate my hypos as Melville describes this feeling which I believe is taken from the word hypochondria. No, for me, it is time to try to barricade myself in the studio and pick up my brush which is my equivalent to hoisting the sail.

With brush in hand there is a freedom with no boundaries that can hold me. No rules to follow, no one to tell me what I can or can’t do.

A brush loaded with paint is like a sail filled with a strong wind that will take me anywhere I want to go.

I can create my own sun when it’s gloomy outside or my own moon and stars to guide me through the dark. I can look out on a landscape free of all traces of people and if I occasionally want to see one I can make them far away from me, small and distant.

That keeps me from knocking off their hats.

The hypos seem to be getting the upper hand of me so I think it is high time to pick up my brush and set sail.

But if you see me on the street in the meantime, hold onto your hat.

 

 

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George Bellows- Blue Morning 1909

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Try everything that can be done. Be deliberate. Be spontaneous. Be thoughtful and painstaking. Be abandoned and impulsive. Learn your own possibilities.

–George Bellows

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George Bellows- Stag at Sharkey’s 1909

I’ve been an admirer of George Bellows’ work for a long time. He was a member of the Ashcan School, the group of painters from around the turn of the 20th century who painted gritty scenes set in the streets and buildings of urban America. He did a series of scenes with club fighters of the era that are favorites of mine, such as Stag at Sharkey’s here on the right, reminding me of my own grandfather who was a club wrestler of that same era.

My grandfather had numerous matches in the men’s clubs as well in the vaudeville theaters that were common in our hometown. He was called Shank for his ability to put a leghold on his opponents and hold it until they submitted. He had matches that lasted for several hours and had a pretty large local fanbase.

I can easily envision him at home in the dark scenes that were painted at that time by George Bellows.

While best known for his dark and gritty work, Bellows seemed to have paid attention to his own words of advice above. Though he died prematurely in 1925 at the age of 42 from peritonitis from a ruptured appendix, he stretched his work in many directions beyond his work as a member of the Ashcan group. He did portraiture, war scenes, landscapes and Maine seascapes and a host of other sorts of paintings in his prolific but short life. All were distinctly his own.

I wonder if he ever fully learned the extent of his own possibilities. While we may never know the answer, he left us a lot of hints as to what they might have been.

George Bellows- Love of Winter 1914

George Bellows- Big Dory 1913

George Bellows- Cleaning Fish

George Bellows- Haystacks and Barn

George Bellows- Massacre at Dinant (War Series) 1918

George Bellows- Shipyard Society 1916

George Bellows- Steaming Streets 1908

George Bellows- The White Horse 1914

George Bellows- Up the Hudson

George Bellows- The Fisherman’s Family 1923

 

 

 

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With about a foot of snow already on the ground and more falling as I write, I spent my first few hours this morning shoveling and plowing but still felt that I should post something. I am running one of my favorite posts, one that I run every few years. 

GC Myers- Heliotrope sm***************************

“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.”

-John Quincy Adams

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I don’t what made this pop into my head but I was thinking about a conversation from a few years back that I had with a friend who is also a painter. He has been a working artist for almost his entire adult life, fairly successful for much of that time. We both agree that we are extremely fortunate to have found the careers that we have, one that feels like a destination rather than a passageway to some other calling.

For me, I knew this was the career for me when I realized I no longer looked at the job listings in the classified section of the paper. For most of my life, I felt there was something else out there that would satisfy me but I didn’t know what it was or how to find it. Maybe it was as simple as finding the right job. Or so I thought.

When you don’t know where you’re going, any direction feels like it might be the right direction.

But during this particular conversation this friend asked, “What would you do if you suddenly couldn’t paint? What if you were suddenly blind?”

For him, it was unthinkable. His life of creation was totally visual, based on expressing every emotion in paint.

I thought about it for a second and said simply, “I’d do something else. I’d find a way.”

In that split-second I realized that while I loved painting and relished the idea that I could communicate completely in paint, painting was a mere device for self-expression. But it was not the only way to go. I knew then as I know now that the deprivation of something that has come to mean so much to me would, in itself, create a new need for expression that would somehow be satisfied. I have always marveled at the people who, when paralyzed or have lost use of their arms, paint with their toes or their mouth . Their drive to communicate overcame their obstacles. Mine would as well.

If blinded, I could or do something with words, using them to create color and texture. Perhaps not at the same level as my painting but it might grow into something different given the circumstance. The need to communicate whatever I needed to communicate would create a pathway.

It was an epiphany in that moment. Just knowing that I had found painting gave me the belief that I could and would find a new form of expression if needed.

I did it once and I could do it again. And I found that greatly comforting.

Yes, I’d find a way…

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I’ve mentioned here before that my father is in a local nursing facility, suffering from Alzheimer’s related dementia. Visits with him have become shorter and shallower, barely any conversation outside of a short script of repeating questions he asks that remain embedded in his fading mind. Most of the time, he sleeps now. It’s a strange thing seeing him now. He seems a faint echo of his prior self. Many of the facets of he personality I knew as a kid are not recognizable in him now.

I sometimes sit there for a bit and look at him, trying to remember him in different times, with his good points and his bad. I often think of him with his friends at a few local bars, the environment where he seemed to me to be most comfortable and at home. There was a lot of easy laughing and a warmth extended to his comrades, many of which were guys he’d known for most of life, that I didn’t see anywhere else, even at home. It was a true facet of who he was, one that only showed itself in the safety found in the dark, smoky closeness of those old bars. 

At those moments, looking at him in this way, I always go back to a favorite song, one that I used in the post below from several years ago that deals with this same subject. Here it is:

GC Myers-Tree Waltz smIt’s the last Sunday of June and I sit in my studio early this morning surrounded by new work in varied states of completion that is headed to the West End Gallery for my show there at the end of July. There are paintings on easels and on chairs, some propped against the walls, on ledges above the fireplace as well as leaning against the hearth– everywhere I turn they’re facing me.

I take a moment and just sit back and take them all in, just letting them meld together as a collective group. For a moment, there’s a disconcerting feeling like looking at mirror that is shattered but still in place, a hundred different angles of myself staring back at me. But there is a quick adjustment, like my eyes coming into focus, and they’re no longer images of myself. Oh, I’m in there and I am part of what they are but they are more like a group of friends surrounding me, each with their own life but still maintaining a close relationship with me. I know them well, know their secrets, know what they mean to me. And they know me, hold my secrets and share a past with me.

In that moment, there’s a feeling like I am in a room full of friends and it is warmly reassuring. I’m not sure I can do justice with my description here. It makes me think of a favorite song of mine, Feeling Good Again, from Robert Earl Keen. Whenever I hear this song I am reminded of the time in my youth spent with my father, especially after my brother and sister were gone and I alone remained at home.

On many Saturdays we ended up at the horse track and before heading out would stop at a beer joint in town. It would only be about 9 or 10 in the morning but the place would be busy, with some guys drinking their morning coffee and some their first of many beers for the day. When we walked in, there would be shouted greetings and smiles from around the bar. Everyone knew each other and there was a terrific sense of friendship and camaraderie in their banter. Looking back, I can  see how that place was a safe haven for a lot of tough, working class lives and how those friendships, though maybe not deep, were reassuring, a connection they often couldn’t find in other parts of their lives.

They might struggle through the week but for s few short hours, they had a kinship that made it tolerable. Those times had them feeling good again.

Feeling Good Again is the name of this song from Robert Earl Keen. When I hear this song, I am transformed again to one of those Saturday mornings, a thirteen year old kid drinking a coke while my old man joked around with his buddies and looked over the Racing Form with his cup of coffee.  Have a great day.

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I am prepping for my annual two day workshop next week in Penn Yan at the Arts Center of Yates County. Below is a post I wrote just before the first workshop. I have to say, after the first four years, they have been both a lot of fun and pretty stressful for me. Every year, I am not sure I can do another one. But I keep coming back, mainly because of the kindness of the folks that come, the many laughs we share, the fact that I think they are taking away some small bits of knowledge, and the hope that they getting more than they expected when they signed up for the workshop. So far, I think that has been the case.

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Why does one not hold on to what one has, like the doctors or engineers; once a thing is discovered or invented they retain the knowledge; in these wretched fine arts all is forgotten, and nothing is kept.

Vincent Van Gogh, Letter to his brother Theo 1888

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When I read this quote from Van Gogh, I flashed back to a conversation I had several years back with an artist friend who was urging me to begin filming my painting process. He said that a deer could jump in front of my car going home from the gallery that night and nobody would ever know how my  paintings came about. He thought would be a loss.

That made me think but I still didn’t follow his advice and protected my process, except for small glimpses here and there, for years like an alchemist greedily withholding their found knowledge. It was one of several reasons for my lack of enthusiasm for teaching.

But time normally changes all things. I began to realize that it was a fool’s mission in keeping my process to myself. The  process was simply a tool for expression– it was not the expression.

An artist often has individual expression that transcends subject, material and technique. For example, an artist painting exactly like me– same trees and process– would produce work that would be different than my own. It would have a different soul, if it had one at all. If this artist’s purpose was mere copying, it would not. I can say this because I’ve seen this before.

So, after a bit, I came to understand that showing or teaching my process would not diminish my work in any way. In fact, I began painting the way that I do because I initially wanted to see paintings that I wasn’t seeing anywhere else. Wouldn’t it be great to spur that same thing in others?

To that end, as I announced earlier, I am teaching my first two day workshop,  September 17 & 18 [2015],  at the Arts Center of Yates County in Penn Yan, NY.  It’s a lovely town sitting at the end of scenic Keuka Lake, one of the Finger Lakes, famed for their beautiful vistas and multitude of wineries.

I am pretty excited about this and am starting to put together just how I want to teach this. I don’t want to spend any more energy hiding my process and I plan to fill each of the two days with as much info as I can get across while still making it entertaining and educational. So if you want to spend a couple of late summer days in a beautiful setting learning a form of expression that might spur other good things for you, contact the Arts Center of Yates County.

Hope to see you there.

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Paradise

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“The dead can survive as part of the lives of those that still live.”

Kenzaburō ŌeHiroshima Notes

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I didn’t post anything yesterday. That’s kind of unusual because I have been posting a song every Sunday for the past decade without missing a week that I can remember. But I spent yesterday with two of my cousins in a local nursing facility at the bedside of our Aunt Norma. She had been battling a rare esophageal melanoma that blocked her airway and didn’t allow her to eat solid foods for the past several months.

A few day ago she went, at her request so as not to be a burden on her extended family, into a nursing facility for the end of her life. Her journey ended last night around 6 PM.

I am not going into a long story here about Norma. She had seen a lot of life, both good and bad. You have a lot of ups and downs in 93 years. She had outlived most of her siblings, longtime friends, two husbands and a single son who died many years ago, drowning in the Chemung River at the age of seven. The last decade of her life was spent in a an apartment building primarily for the elderly and she thrived in that environment, making tons of new friends with her warmth and sharp mind and wit.

For our family, Norma served a lot of purposes. For some, she was a surrogate mother. For others she was a doting aunt who was always willing to sit and talk, giving you her whole attention which, for that short time, made you feel special, like you were really being heard. It’s a small but precious thing, a gift that you hate to lose.

She was a touchstone to the past, both my own and the family as a whole. She linked to and had memories of ancestors that passed away long before my time. She had a great memory and provided a lot of insight and context to family events from the past. She had sharp memories of the funeral her grandmother, my  great-grandmother, who had drowned in an Allentown, PA canal in the days shortly after my father was born.  She sometimes described the farm in St. Regis Falls of my great-grandfather who was a pioneer in the early logging of the Adirondacks.

And so much more.

She was warm of heart, funny, self-effacing, and generous and gentle of spirit. There was no cruelty in her at all. Everything you would want in an aunt. She was loved and will be missed by many. She leaves a big hole in our little world.

Been great knowing you, Nornie. Say hi to everyone for me.

Here’s a belated bit of Sunday morning music. It’s Paradise from Bruce Springsteen.

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GC Myers  1994 Early Work Illustrative Styling

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To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.

~Henri Bergson

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If you have read this blog for some time, you probably have noticed that I periodically like to revisit old work, especially those early pieces from when I was still in the process of finding voice. It’s an interesting period for me to look at because the changes were coming fast, sometimes on what seemed to be a daily basis, as new things were tried, some sparking new directions and some being quickly set aside.

It was a much different set of circumstances than the way I currently work. It was a period of fast and furious fireworks, little pops and crackles with every step forward where today it is quieter for periods of time followed by louder booms. I don’t know if I can explain that any better and am pretty sure it means nothing to anyone but that is the nature of this whole endeavor– trying to make sense of something inexplicable.

I was looking at some early pieces and stopped on this one at the top for a bit, looking at it closely for the first time in many years. It’s from around 1994 and was at a point where I was still trying to figure out things. It was very illustrative– I could see it being used in a kid’s book– but there were things I took from it. The treatment of the sky, for instance, presaged the way my process evolved. It’s a pleasant little piece but it is far from where I wanted to be and even back then I knew it when I finished it then set it aside. It was not an emotional carrier for me at the time and that was what I was seeking.

The piece below, Into the Valley, was from around six or seven months later, in early 1995, and shows the changes that were taking hold in my work.  It is simpler in construction yet seems to say more for me, seems to have some more fundamental thought and feeling in it. GC Myers Into the Valley 1995

I usually take something from these little visits back in time. The changes become more evident as the style matures then levels off, becoming a bit more subtle, less drastic but more confident. But always changing, always recreating itself as it matures.

Or so I hope…

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