Archive for the ‘Biographical’ Category

Another St. Patrick’s Day, that celebration of all things Irish– parades, pints and more Kelly green than the mind can fully process. They say that well over 30 million Americans claim to have Irish roots.

Growing up, I always believed we did as well because my grandmother was an O’dell, which certainly seems Irish. But doing genealogy over the last decade I have discovered that the O’dell was changed through the years from Odell and before that from Odle and, most likely, before that from Woddell, It turns out that it was not Irish at all.

No, it was British. And for the Irish that is a big distinction.

But I also discovered that my father’s great-grandparents were Irish immigrants during the Great Migration of the middle of the 19th century. It was something I wasn’t sure of before I started my genealogy work. I still haven’t found where they originally came from in Ireland.

Icon: Mary T.

Their’s was a pretty stock story. The father, Michael Patrick Tobin, worked on building the railroads in central New York, ultimately settling in the Binghamton area, where most of his family worked for the next several decades in the tobacco industry there. Most were tobacco strippers or cigar makers.

I am not positive that his wife was actually born in Ireland. There are conflicting accounts but her parents definitely were. She was the subject of one of my Icon paintings from a couple of year’s back shown here on the right. Her story is an interesting one, one that I wrote about on this blog. You can read it by clicking here.

So, it turns out I am one of those 30-some million with a bit of Irish blood, about 16% according to the DNA tests. I don’t give it much thought except on this particular day and even then I realize that these folks were little different than most of my other ancestors from other countries who left the hardships of their homelands for what they hoped would be a better life in America. I can’t say they all found wonderful lives but perhaps they were a bit better off than they might have been had they stayed put.

Okay, here a bit of Irish music for the day, a nice reel, The Glen Road to Carrick, from a contemporary Irish group, FullSet. I like the feel of this- it has a fresh edge that makes me want to drive too fast. By the way, the painting at the top is from a late Irish painter, Paul Henry, who painted primarily in the first half of the 20th century. I am a fan of his work and featured it here a couple of years back.

Have yourself a good day.


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Lost time is never found again.

–Benjamin Franklin

The clocks moved ahead by an hour this morning despite my protests. Even though I have wasted more than my fair share of time in my life, I am at an age where I hate to see an hour just taken from me. That feeling on waking to find that it’s an hour later than I was expecting makes me rush out of bed and my morning begins on a frazzled note.

So this morning–what’s left of it–has found me searching for something to play for this week’s musical selection that would stave off my lost hour panic. Something that would slow me down so that it feels like that hour is still there, somehow.

My search takes me down dead end streets on YouTube with songs that just felt wrong which only served to aggravate me more. But somehow– and don’t ask me how– I spotted this song by a group of musicians unknown to me, a French group called the Tarkovsky Quartet.  It was a composition titled Nuit Blanche (White Night) and, as I listened to it play, felt that it was the right song for this wrong morning.

So, give a listen. Most likely the idea that time springs ahead doesn’t bother you. But if it does, this song is a lovely way to spend a few minutes of time without feeling you’re wasting it.

Have a good day.

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“Writers remember everything…especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar.
Art consists of the persistence of memory.” 

 Stephen King, Misery


Never thought I’d be quoting Stephen King here but that final sentence above– Art consists of the persistence of memory-– rings so true for my work. Like the writers he references, I depend on my memory of every scar, every failure, every triumph, every moment of lucidity, every small revelation to give my work some meaning, if only for myself.

That’s what the piece at the top is really about. It’s a painting that has never been available for sale and only showed it in my 2012 show at the Fenimore Art Museum. It’s a keeper and hangs in my studio. The title is Persist (All That We Know) and was the winning entry in a contest I held on the blog back in 2010 when it was painted. There were a lot of great titles submitted for that contest but this one, it turns out, was dead on perfect.

At least as I see it.

I can look at that painting now as I write this and it acts as a centering device, at once bringing me back to what I am truly trying to convey in my work– my scars and how they have shaped me.

Time to get to work.

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It’s a busy morning with much to do so I am running the post below from several years ago that deals with the indifference that so many of us exhibit about so many things. If something doesn’t impact us directly, we tend to shrug our shoulders and say “Oh, well.” The passive acceptance of this sort of  indifference has been the great enabler of many of  history’s darkest eras. We live in a time where we cannot afford to be indifferent or we will again find ourselves in another dark place sometime soon. The anecdote I share below is no doubt trivial in the greater scheme of things but indifference is an insidious thing at any level.

A little  indifference can lead to greater sorrow…

GC Myers Memory of Night sm

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

-Elie Wiesel


I’ve been sitting here for quite some time now, staring at the quote above from Elie Wiesel. I had planned on writing about how my work evolved as a response to the indifference of others but now, looking at those words and putting them into the context of  Wiesel’s experience, I feel a bit foolish. Wiesel, who had survived the Holocaust and crusaded so that it might never happen again, was eyewitness to indifference on a grand scale, from those who were complicit or those who did not raise their voices in protest even though they knew what was happening to the personal indifference shown by his Nazi guards, as they turned a blind eye to the suffering and inhumanity directly before them on a daily basis, treating their innocent captives as though they were nothing at all.

The indifference of which he speaks is that which looks past you without any regard for your humanity. Or your mere existence, for that matter. It is this failure to engage, this failure to allow our empathy to take hold and guide us, that grants permission for the great suffering that takes place throughout our world.

So you can see where writing about showing a picture as a symbolic battle against indifference might seem a bit trivial. It certainly does to me. But I do see in it a microcosm of the wider implications. We all want our humanity, our existence, recognized and for me this was a small way of  raising my voice to be heard.

When I first started showing my work I was coming off of a period where I was at my lowest point for quite some time. I felt absolutely voiceless and barely visible in the world, dispossessed in many ways. In art I found a way to finally express an inner voice, my real humanity, that others could see and feel a reaction. So when my first opportunity to display my work came, at the West End Gallery in 1995, I went to the show with great trepidation.

For some, it was just a show of  some nice paintings by some nice folks. For me, it was a test of my existence.

It was interesting as I stood off to the side, watching as people walked about the space. It was elating when someone stopped and looked at my small pieces. But that feeling of momentary glee was overwhelmed by the indifference shown by those who walked by with hardly a glance. That crushed me. I would have rather they had stopped and spit at my work on the wall than merely walk by dismissively. That, at least, would have made me feel heard.

Don’t get me wrong here– some people walking by a painting that doesn’t move them with barely a glance are not Nazis. I held no ill will toward them, even at that moment. I knew that I was the one who had placed so much importance on this moment, not them. They had no idea that they were playing part to an existential crisis.  Now, I am even a bit grateful for their indifference that night because it made me vow that I would paint bolder, that I would make my voice be heard. Without that indifference I might have settled and not continued forward on my path.

But in this case, I knew that it was up to me to overcome their indifference.

Again, please excuse my use of Mr. Wiesel’s quote here. My little anecdote has little to do with the experience of those who suffered at the hands of evil people who were enabled by the indifference of those who might have stopped them. The point is that we all want to be heard, to be recognized on the most basic level for our own existence, our own individual selves. But too often, we all show indifference that takes that away from others, including those that we love. We all need to listen and hear, to look and see, to express our empathy with those we encounter.

We need to care.

Maybe in that small ways the greater effects of indifference of which Elie Wiesel spoke can be somehow avoided.

We can hope.

The painting at the top is a new piece [at the time this was written] that I call Memory of Night, inspired by Wiesel’s book, Night.

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Every generation has positive and negatives aspects during the growing up process that are unique to that time. As you age, we tend to glorify what we believe to be these better aspects to, for some unknown reason, show a generational superiority.

Oddly enough, we do the same with the bad aspects of our time growing, as though it gives us both an excuse for our shortcomings and a way to say that we are battle-hardened and tougher than the current generation as a result of having gone through that time. You now the routine: I had to fight off a grizzly bear every morning in order to walk two miles uphill through waist-deep snow just get on the school bus– all without breakfast. Or shoes.

But thinking about the our plague of school shootings makes me think I how fortunate I was to have gone to school every day without worrying that someone was going to walk in and start shooting. There was already enough stress in going to school without that threat of mortal danger hanging over your head.

I can’t even imagine how I would have felt if that had been happening when I went to school.

Fortunately, we didn’t have those kind of events at that time but we did have terrible things happen. And even though they didn’t reach the level of these tragedies, they still left a mark.

I went to a small rural grade school. I can’t remember if I was in fourth or fifth grade but one weekday afternoon a girl one grade below me came up missing. A search began and they found her body in a dump site on a creek not far from the school. Soon after they charged a disturbed high school boy with her murder.

I remember that weekend when that happened so clearly. The world changed drastically for me and, I am sure, for many other kids in my school. It that short time school and the rest of world suddenly seemed like a much more dangerous and dark place. There was now a gray sadness I had never known.

We lived in an isolated old farmhouse and at that time I was sleeping upstairs by myself. At night, I would often turn on my little portable radio to drown out some of the creaks and groans that the old place made, noises that would make the younger me think that Dracula or the Wolf Man were just outside the door–Frankenstein or the Mummy never bothered me because I figured I could outrun those guys.

But on Sunday nights the only broadcasts I could get at that time of night were religious programs. They always had a feeling of hellfire and damnation which always bummed me out a bit even at the end of a good weekend. I remember how awful I felt that particular Sunday night in my bed in the dark when Billy Graham’s Hour of Decision came on.

His voice and words gave no comfort at all.

In fact, it made me feel even more fearful, alone and sad. I still can hear the train whistle that came across the fields from the tracks that ran along the river which was about a half mile away. It added a cold and mournful tone to that moment that still lingers with me.

As I said, I can’t imagine how I would feel if I were a kid today. But based on that moment almost fifty years ago, it would not be good. Kids should not have to worry about such things.

Here’s my choice for this week’s Sunday morning music. It is fittingly titled When I Was Young from one of my favorite bands from the 60’s, Eric Burdon and The Animals. Try to have a good Sunday.

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The value of the prototype does not consist in the rarity of the object, but in the rarity of the quality it represents.

–Victor Vasarely


I have to confess up front that I am not a big fan of Victor Vasarely (1906-1997) or the Op-Art movement of which he is at the forefront. It’s not that I am denigrating it. I have seen a number of pieces that I do like and I can certainly see people being intrigued by its color and forms and how it can reverberate in certain environments.

If I had a mid-century home with lots of glass and chrome, I might think about hanging this type of work. But I live in a cabin in the woods.

It’s just not to my particular taste, that’s all.

That being said, I immediately nodded in agreement when I read the quote above from Vasarely. As I read it, it jibes well with my own views on the intrinsic value of art and how the artist behind it affects the artwork’s value beyond that of a mere object.

When I have spoken with students in the past I try to impress on them that while they must learn their craft, they should also focus on making themselves fully rounded humans with an individual voice that reflects their uniqueness and individuality.

I urge them to read more, listen more, and to look at more things, all preferably outside their own known preferences.  I believe it creates a sense of fullness that will extend into their work, giving their work a greater sense of that quality that takes a piece beyond being a mere object of decoration.  And today, when there are more artists than at any other time at any point in history, its that rare sense of this quality that can make the difference in how seriously an artist’s work is viewed.

I don’t know if that ever gets through to these kids or if it even holds true in reality, but it seems right to me. I personally try to view each piece as a combination of skill, experience, acquired knowledge and influences, and the flaws and strengths of my own character–hopefully, the better parts of it.

Sometimes it works and at those times I see the quality represented by it that Vasarely described. When it doesn’t, I see a mere object that lacks the fullness that I am trying to put in it. I can see that I have somehow withheld some part of myself from that work and I try to figure out how to overcome that deficiency.

But most of all, I keep trying to find that rare quality…

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But I believe above all that I wanted to build the palace of my memory, because my memory is my only homeland.

Anselm Kiefer


I came across this quote from artist Anselm Kiefer and it immediately struck a chord with me.

There is always a nagging question running through my mind about the purpose of my painting, at least for myself. The why behind the what. And this brief quote seemed to capture some of what I have been thinking about that.

While I am attached to the area in which I live, a place that my family has been in for about two hundred years now, I have come to feel that the landscape in my paintings is my real homeland. It is a construct built from memories and imaginings, a place that feels real but allows for exaggeration and embellishment.

When I visit real places from my childhood, I only see them briefly as they really are in the present. Then they revert to the image drawn in my memory–my real and only homeland. The body of my work is in a way a palace of that memory, a residence for what I am, was or will ever be.

I call the painting shown here, The Palace of My Memory, of course. It is 12″ by 6″ on panel and is part of my show, Sensing the Unseen, that opens in Erie’s Kada Gallery next Friday, December 1. I am excited by this show and am looking forward to seeing it all together on the walls of the gallery. Hope you can make it.

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