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Archive for the ‘Biographical’ Category

Below is a post from about five years back that very much speaks to the role of anxiety in the work of many artists, myself among them.

Henry Moore Sculpture*****************************

It is a mistake for a sculptor or a painter to speak or write very often about his job. It releases tension needed for his work.

Henry Moore

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Came across this quote from the great British sculptor Henry Moore and it struck me on two accounts, both in the words about an artist talking too much about his job and the other in the need for tension. I am aware and worry about both things quite often.

Talking and writing about my work has been a normal thing for me for many years now and, on one hand, I think it has helped me express myself in many ways. The writing and speaking acts as a confessional in which I can air out my anxieties and that, in itself, often reveals new insights that send me in new directions. But on the other hand, I have often feared that my willingness to be transparent will detract from my work in some way. In times when I am less than confident, I fear that my words will somehow expose me as a fraud or, at least, point out the more obvious flaws in my character or deficiencies as an artist.

Even as I write this, I am questioning the very act of doing so.

But I do it. And will probably continue to do so. It’s become part of who I am at this point, even on those days when I find myself questioning what I am or the wisdom in writing or speaking about it.

As for tension being needed for the work, that is something I have believed for a long time. Tension pushes me, makes me stretch forward out of my comfort zone. Tension has been the igniter for every personal breakthrough in my work, creating an absolute need to find new imagery or new ways to use materials.

There are times when I feel that I have become too comfortable in the materials and processes that I use and that people have become too accustomed to seeing my work. I feel stagnant, stalled at a plateau. It is in these times when tension, even fear, begins to build in me and I begin to scan in all directions for a new way of seeing or a new material in which to work.

The tension becomes a burning need to prove myself.

This tension is not a comfortable thing. But I know it is a necessary condition in order for my work to continue to grow, which is what I want and need. To the casual observer it would seem to be a good thing as an artist to reach a point where you are comfortable and satisfied in what you are doing.

I can see that.

But when that tension is absent my drive to express, to create, is stifled. My work dulls and becomes somewhat hollow. Fortunately, seeing this in my work sets off some sort of alarm and I begin to worry. And the tension begins to build once more.

And both comfort and satisfaction are gone.

And I am happily alone with my anxiety.

Odd as it may seem, I see that anxiety as a path forward or an open door to be found. It ultimately reveals something.

And if so, I will no doubt be here, for better or worse, writing about it.

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GC Myers-Guided By BeautyOne of those days that start out on the wrong foot, sleeping late on what promises to be a hectic, busy day when I want to get up early. Maybe I needed the extra hour or so of sleep. I don’t know except that it didn’t refresh me in any way and I find myself instantly filled with the anxiety that has been plaguing me in recent days. It’s that teeth grinding, headache inducing kind of tension that ends up in a knotty sharp edged ball in the gut.

It brings me quicker to frustration and anger at the slightest perceived provocation. I know it’s this way and I fight it but it’s a powerful beast, this ugly anxiousness. Please excuse me if you see me on the road today and for some unknown reason I appear to be swearing loudly and making obscene gestures.

This sounds more like a diary entry than a blog post. Sorry. I don’t want to bore you with my own particular brand of craziness. I have mine and many of you, no doubt, have your own. And these are certainly times that test our ability to remain on an even keel, even for the most sturdy willed of us.

My work helps me. It draws me into it and stills my mind. Or maybe it activates parts of it that have been bitch-slapped into submission by my anxiety? I don’t know for sure. I find that the times when I am most anxious occur when I have a  inner desperate need to express myself and too many things pulling at me, keeping me from doing so.

That sure is how it feels in this instance.

But time has taught me this will pass if I hold on, if I visualize a calmer time ahead that I can set as a point on my horizon to navigate towards.

Maybe that’s the purpose of this new painting, Guided By Beauty. Maybe it’s that point, that destination on the horizon.

It does calm me greatly.

And I needed that now.

This piece is heading to the Principle Gallery for my annual Gallery Talk this coming Saturday, September 21, beginning at 1 PM. I will be announcing the painting that will be given away at the Talk tomorrow so come back please. It’s gonna be a peach! Plus, as always, there will be plenty of other surprises. So, if you are so inclined, make a point of getting to the Principle Gallery next Saturday.

My choice for this Sunday morning music is a song from one of my favorites, Neko Case. It’s Deep Red Bells.

Have a good Sunday and if you see me on the highway, please forgive me.

 

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GC Myers- Night Comes On

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I went down to the place where I knew she lay waiting
Under the marble and the snow
I said, Mother I’m frightened, the thunder and the lightning
I’ll never come through this alone
She said, I’ll be with you, my shawl wrapped around you
My hand on your head when you go
And the night came on, it was very calm
I wanted the night to go on and on
But she said, go back, go back to the world

Leonard Cohen, Night Comes On

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I finished the painting above earlier this week, a 20″ by 20″ canvas piece that really spoke to me as I was painting it. All the time I was working on it, I had a song running in my head– Here Comes the Night from Them, the Northern Irish band of the 1960’s that featured Van Morrison. Great song with a memorable chorus that really seemed to align with what I was seeing in this piece. Here Comes the Night was the title I mentally attached to this painting while working on it.

But after I was finished with the painting and spent a few days looking at it in the studio, something about the title gnawed at me. For some unknown reason Here Comes the Night as a title just didn’t feel right any more. But I knew there was something in this painting that jibed with a song in my mind, some song that used night in its title and resonated with me personally.

I strained for a couple of days going through night songs that came to mind but none of them were right. It was one of those times when you come across the right answer you will immediately know it.

That time came early this morning. I came into the studio with the title Night Comes On stuck in my mind. I was pretty sure it was from an old Leonard Cohen song that I hadn’t heard in years and had mostly lost in the mossy mire of my brain. But as soon as I put it on, the lyrics flooded back to me, reminding me that it was a song that always cried out to me whenever I heard it.

I knew immediately that it was the right choice. And not just for the lyrics.

While listening to the song and looking at the painting, I realized that the sky and the moon in this painting related directly to a dream that I had several years ago. I am hesitant to share the dream, as its personal and there’s a small superstitious part of me that fears I will weaken the power of that dream if I tell it aloud.

I will say that it came to at a point where I was filled with uncertainty, especially about my place in this world as an artist. I was in between my two annual shows and felt absolutely worthless and creatively impotent. I felt hopelessly paralyzed.

But one night this dream came to me with sense of great calmness and a wisdom that I most certainly never knew in my waking life. I was instantly soothed, my immediate worries evaporating. In the years since it appeared, this dream has remained a source of calm when I am stressed out. This dream marked a change in how I saw myself and what I do. A change that brings with it a calmness and acceptance.

There is something in the sky of this painting that is pulled directly from that dream. I didn’t see it until I heard this song this morning and then that was all I could see. It gives me chills– in a good way.

Here’s the Leonard Cohen song. Time for me to go back to the world.

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The Loner

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I was a loner, am a loner, good Lord, it’s the only way I can imagine working.

–Dorothea Tanning

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I have things to do this morning and really just wanted to show the Dorothea Tanning painting, La Truite au Bleu, at the top, mainly because it pleases me very much. But I find I have to at least make a comment on the quote attached to this post.

I’ve have always worked alone as a painter and, like Tanning, can’t imagine it any other way. With only a few exceptions, when someone is in my studio, I am a bit on edge and even a little defensive. To have someone in the studio on a regular basis, say like studio assistant, would have me nervous and jerky. It would keep me from drifting off in thought when I felt like doing so or screaming in anger or crying in sad happiness.

And to do what I do, I need to do those things.

But more than that, I would have a hard time painting. At least, painting anything meaningful. There would always be something missing, as though I couldn’t commit everything because I would be distracted in maintaining a facade for the other person in my space. I would always be keenly aware of their presence.

I don’t know if that’s good or bad or if it matters in the least. I do know that Tanning lived to be 101 years old, dying in 2012. And until the end of her life, she painted and wrote , always working alone. So, maybe being a loner has it’s advantages.

I guess I will find out, one way or the other.

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Another Labor Day has come. Most folks have forgotten that this holiday was first celebrated back in 1894, signed in as a federal holiday as an effort to bring an air of reconciliation to the nation which had just endured the widespread and violent Pullman Strike. It is meant to honor the Labor Movement and the workers it represents.

For me, the day reminds me of the first time I worked outside of our home for someone else as a child, a memory that was recently reawakened at a wedding of an old friend near the fields where I first used my hands and back for labor. There was an old potato farmer on the road where I grew up and a friend of mine would periodically go down there and work, most of the time picking or bagging potatoes. One day he asked if I wanted to come along as the farmer was going to lay irrigation pipe that day and could use some extra help. Being eleven years old and wanting to make some extra cash and having no idea what I was getting myself into, I agreed.

It was hot and dusty work. The long pipes weren’t heavy but were awkward and each time they began to dip towards the ground as you carried them brought a gruff yell from the crusty old farmer, who was not one to wear out his smile from use. He certainly didn’t put much wear and tear on his that day. To make up for it, he did a lot of yelling and cursing at us.

We had just a short break to eat the sandwich each of us had brought with us and after about eight hours in the fields, I was exhausted and covered with alternating layers of sweat and gray, grimy dust. It was the first real day of work I had experienced. It had been a tough for an untested eleven year old but now I would be rewarded.

As my friend and I prepared to mount our bicycles and head tiredly home, the farmer stood before us in his dusty bib overalls, unsmiling, of course.

“Suppose you want to get paid?”

It came out of his mouth not so much like a question but more like a complaint. We silently nodded, eager in our anticipation of our sweet reward. He stuck his thick, strong farmer hand into a pocket and pulled out a handful of change. He counted out three dollars in quarters to each of us and said, “Okay?”

Again, not really a question. More of a dismissal, more like okay, we’re done here, now go.

We were just kids but we knew we had been taken advantage of that day. But we were eleven years old and afraid to death to talk back to the surly old man, to say that this was unfair. We never worked another day for him and I found out later that this was his modus operandi, working the hell out of kids then underpaying them. If they didn’t come back, so what? There were always kids looking  to make some money.

It was a small incident but it shaped how I viewed labor and the way many people are exploited. It was a clear object lesson, in microcosm, on the value of the labor movement in this country as a unifying force for those of us most susceptible to being exploited.

The labor movement is underappreciated now. Our memories are short and we lose sight of the abuse and exploitation of workers that have taken place over the ages. We take for granted many of the rights, rules and protections in the workplace, thinking they have always been in place. But they are there only because people in the labor movement stood up against this exploitation and abuse. These folks willing to stand against injustice deserve our gratitude on this day. We could use a hell of a lot more of them now.

So, as you spend your holiday in a hopefully happy and relaxing manner, remember those who made this day possible. Happy Labor Day.

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This post originally ran on this blog back on Labor Day in 2010.

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“Pondering Solitude”- Part of the West End Gallery show ending Friday

Around this time of the year, I always want to apologize to the folks that read this blog. Much of the content revolves around promoting of the work in my shows or my talks. Though I know it’s a necessary evil and part of my job, it’s still something I would rather not have to do. With two shows hanging and two more talks coming in the next few weeks, which means more promotion here, I thought I’d run a post from 2015 that includes a post from 2011. It sums up pretty well what I feel about the whole thing.

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The time just before the solo shows and gallery talks that are a big part of what I do is the hardest time for me, by far the most stressful and difficult part of this whole art thing.  There’s a direct conflict between my internal need need to seek solitude and the external need to discuss and promote my works and the galleries where they hang.  For weeks leading up to events, solitude is pushed to the rear and the act of promotion takes center stage.

The ego becomes a foe at this point and I am soon tired of hearing my own voice and experience a bit of self-loathing at times. But I feel compelled to persevere out of the duty and loyalty to the galleries that represent me and the need to make a living for myself. It is the part of the job that probably is the hardest hurdle for any artist to clear, a sometimes unsavory task that keeps many artists from reaching their largest audience.

Here are a few other thoughts on the subject from a few years ago, right around this same time in the 2011:

I was asked yesterday what I was going to speak about in today’s gallery talk at the West End Gallery. I kidded that I was going , of course, to speak about me.

Me, me, me.

I went on to explain how I approach these talks, trying to read the group in attendance and finding something of interest in the work that sparks a dialogue where they participate. The hope being that they leave with a little more insight into the work and I leave with with a little more knowledge of how they view it. But that offhand joke yesterday about me has stuck in my craw. Just joking about it has bothered me somehow. 

One of the conundrums of art is that you are expressing a sometimes very personal aspect of yourself in a public forum, exposing one’s weaknesses and flaws to the world for all to see. The need to do this is the need for an affirmation of one’s own existence in this world. I know that this has been the case for myself. I have often felt insignificant throughout my life in this world, unseen and unheard. But it seemed to me that my life, like all others, had to have meaning of some sort and that my feelings and thoughts mattered as much as any other being’s.

If I was here and thinking, I mattered.

Cogito ergo sum.

Until I fell into painting I never found a way to affirm this existence, an avenue to allow my voice to be finally heard. But having found a method of expression, the question becomes: What part does ego play in this? Where is  that line that separates the need for self-expression from base self-glorification?

This has always bothered me. Even though I want to express myself and want my work to hopefully affect others, this constant self-promotion puts one at least on or near this dividing line. For me, that’s an uncomfortable position. Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to my work, I certainly have the confidence of ego. It may be the only part of my world where I have supreme confidence though, on many days, even that is shaky.

But on days like today, when I have to talk about “me, me, me,” I always get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach both before and afterwards. Before because of the dread of exposing myself as a fool and afterwards from the fear that I did just that. 

Oh, well.  All just part of the job…

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“…that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.”

–Ray Bradbury, The October Country

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Every so often you come across something from your distant past that has long passed from memory.  It could be a book, a song, a photo or some small insignificant memento, something once cherished but now tucked away in the piling up of time. Coming across such a thing after so many years illuminates how much that thing meant to you. In some cases, being able to look back at the years allows  you to see that it actually influenced your way of thinking and, therefore, your life.

That’s how I felt this morning when I came across the short prologue, shown here at the top, to the 1955 book of short stories from Ray Bradbury, The October Country. I probably read this book last in the late 1970’s at a time when I devoured most of Bradbury’s books. They were all great and interesting reads and Bradbury had a poetic nature to go with his active imagination, one that sometimes found feelings of isolation and fear at the edges of the mundane.

I don’t know how I reacted when I read the words above forty years ago but reading them now, I felt like he was describing me. Or at least, describing the occupants of the world I depict in my paintings, those folks who, by extension, are built from parts of myself.

They are definitely the autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts.

Lingering in twilight, tucked in dark niches inside, facing away from the sun.

The painting at the top, Dark Eye of Quiet, is a new painting that is part of my current show at the West End Gallery. When I read Bradbury’s prologue to The October Country, I could see in this piece how his words, perhaps unbeknownst to me, had stayed with and filtered through me over the time. It’s a painting that aptly illustrates this point, from its title to the doorless and windowless houses that reside in shadow, seeming to be avoid the gaze of the dark sun. It has the wistful isolation of a Bradbury story.

I went through a stack of old paperbacks in a closet and dug out my dog-eared copy of the The October Country. Leafing through it, I saw a few titles in the list of contents that I had circles eons ago. I don’t remember doing this, of course, but I obviously saw something in it that made me do this. One was titled The Wind and turning the pages to that story I was greeted by a black and white illustration for the story from artist Joe Mugnaini.

I didn’t recognize or remember it but even so, it had a familiarity that made me smile.

I found an image of it online and am sharing it here. Maybe it was not only Bradbury’s words that influenced me forty some years back?

The mind works in weird and wonderful ways, eh?

 

 

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