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Archive for the ‘Biographical’ Category

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The way of the Creative works through change and transformation, so that each thing receives its true nature and destiny and comes into permanent accord with the Great Harmony: this is what furthers and what perseveres.

Alexander Pope

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I am moving toward final preparations for my annual show at the Principle Gallery which opens five weeks from today, on June 7th. This year’s show is titled Redtree: New Growth which references my first solo show, Redtree, at the gallery way back in 2000. I thought invoking the Redtree label was appropriate as this is going to be my 20th solo exhibit at the Principle and the Redtree has certainly remained a vital part of my work.

There is no getting away from that.

But the addition of New Growth is important, both for this show and for myself as an artist. The Redtree is still present in my work but there is also a need to evolve it, to keep moving away from any sort of static position. A need to not settle for what I am now but, instead, to aspire and move to become something more.

Change and transformation, as Pope put it.

There is a constant need to have that which he describes as my true nature and destiny move closer to that Great Harmony.

There are moments when I am at work when I feel I am close to that point, that I am looking at my real essence, my true nature. They are rare moments but there in no mistaking those instances of clarity. I have felt that a few times in prepping this show and am grateful for these occurrences because even though they are fleeting, they leave me with a desire to push my own boundaries and expectations.

Looking back on the prior 19 Principle Gallery shows, I can see evidence of other times when I was experiencing this same feeling. They showed themselves as moments of growth that standout to me. There were years that stand out for me, where the work jumped forward in bounds. And there were years where there was an evident pause in the growth of the work, where I almost seemed to be complacently resting.

Maybe a bit too satisfied with where I was? Probably. Or maybe I was wary of moving because I was afraid there was nowhere to go, that I was as far in my journey as I was able to go? I can’t say for sure.

But this year’s Principle Gallery show challenged me. That is was my 20th show there seemed like such a milepost for me that I became concerned that it was becoming an endpoint with nothing beyond it. That produced an almost feverish desire to create work of a truly essential nature.

I won’t know whether I actually succeed in this quest for a few years as I am too enmeshed in the work now to be objective. But I feel as strongly about this work as any I have ever done and if my emotional reactions to it are any indicator, it will age well.

The painting at the top is the title piece for this show, Redtree: New Growth. A 36″ by 24″ canvas, it has a sharpness and clarity that just feels right for the moment. This painting aligns perfectly, at least in how I view it, with Pope’s words above.

It furthers and perseveres.

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All art is exorcism. I paint dreams and visions too; the dreams and visions of my time. Painting is the effort to produce order; order in yourself. There is much chaos in me, much chaos in our time.

–Otto Dix

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The German artist Otto Dix (1891-1969) certainly saw much chaos in his time. He fought and was wounded in his neck in the chaos of World War I. He then lived through the turbulence of the Weimar Republic of post-war Germany, his paintings often reflecting its sense of despair and fatalism.

At that time, he also painted anti-war paintings that showed the horrors of combat. His paintings earned him a place of the list of Degenerate Artists when the Nazis came to power and he was removed from his teaching position at the Dresden Academy  and over 250 of his paintings were confiscated.

Several of what were considered his greatest paintings were destroyed or lost during this time. One of these, The Trench, which depicted the horror of trench warfare in grim details, was considered perhaps the greatest post-war European painting. It is shown below in a black and white photo from the time along with another lost painting, War Cripples. Another, the painting at the top The War, painted from 1929-1932, survived only because Dix separated the four panels and distributed them among friends so that they might hide them.

During the final months of World War II, many Germans who were considered too young, too old or unfit for combat were conscripted into the German army. Dix was among this group. He was captured in the chaos of combat and held by the French until 1946.

Dix knew a lot about chaos. I feel fortunate to have not been exposed to that degree of upheaval in my world.  But I can agree, even though much of the chaos I know lives inside of me, that art is an effort to produce order in oneself.

For example, the other morning I came into the studio very early with a high degree of anxiety. I had slept restlessly, tossing and turning and wide awake with my mind racing for most of the night. I was really out of sorts and seemed ready to burst. I got to work as soon as I could and began painting. I didn’t care what it was. I just knew I had to make marks, put something down on a surface on which I could put my focus.

An hour or so later, I stepped back from a finished underpainting of red oxide paint. It was not a complete painting but it conveyed the order and essence of what it would be. I could feel then that my anxiety had lifted and a calmness had replaced it. The tightness in my chest was gone and, looking at the piece, I could see that a sense of rightness, of order, had pushed away the chaos that had crept into my  mind.

I felt tears in my eyes. I am embarrassed to say that but I think it has to be said. Finding a bit of order in a world that seems filled with chaos is an emotional moment for me. It is that thing that makes art such an invaluable thing.

Dix painted scenes of chaos in order to clarify and bring to light those things that haunted him. My work is about just finding a small slice of order in the work so that it might still my own inner chaos.

It takes all kinds, I guess.

Otto Dix- “War Cripples” 1920

 

Otto Dix- “The Trench”

Otto Dix- “Skat Players”

Otto Dix- “Three Prostitutes on the Street”

 

Otto Dix- “Metropolis”

 

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I give thanks every day that I’ve been able to take my craziness and make it work for me.

Fritz Scholder

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I featured the work of Fritz Scholder (1937-2005) last year, showing a few of the piece that were representative of much of his work, which was in the depiction of the Native American experience in his unique and colorful Modernist/Expressionist style. It’s work that I really enjoy. But today I thought I’d show a few pieces that take the focus off the Native American aspect of his work and talk a bit about his quote above.

When I read these words, I instantly agreed. I often think how fortunate I have been over the past twenty-some years to have found a life that supports me while allowing me to indulge my own quirks and craziness. There aren’t a lot of careers that cater to someone who needs to be alone, that has a need to set and work by their own rules (or lack of rules), that needs to to be free to be introspective and express raw emotion, and that allows me to create and dwell in my own little world. It’s hard to find a job where you set your own standards for what is acceptable.

There are probably a many, many other things that I don’t even see as quirks anymore. They have become ingrained in my day-to-day life. Like Scholder, I give thanks every day to be able to use my craziness as an asset rather than a liability. It’s been long enough now that I can’t imagine doing anything other than this and have a little trouble remembering how it was before this except that I was often deeply unsatisfied with life.

Maybe I was just lucky to find this life. Or maybe it was matter of not giving up along the way and continuing to search for something that I instinctively felt was lacking. Maybe we all end up where we need to be so long as we keep responding to some inner call.

I don’t know. That’s another nice thing about this job, this life– I don’t have to really know anything. I can not know anything all day long. Maybe better than anybody.

But let us set that aside and look at a couple more Fritz Scholder paintings.

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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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