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Paul Nash, Messenger

I am no longer an artist interested and curious, I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on for ever. Feeble, inarticulate, will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth, and may it burn their lousy souls.

Paul Nash

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You most likely don’t know the name of British artist Paul Nash. I wasn’t familiar with the name until just recently.

He lived from 1889 until 1946 and was a force in bringing Modernism to British painting. But perhaps he is best known for his scenes of war, primarily from WW I. They have a surreal otherworldly quality that creates a sense of disturbing unease.

As they should.

Nash knew the horror of war firsthand, fighting in the British trenches of the Great War. His quote at the top is a powerful indictment of homeland politicians, chicken hawks and war profiteers who go on and on, seemingly unaffected as others die for their words and deeds and bottom lines.

The sentiment still rings true today.

There was a tremendous amount of paintings of the time that depicted the terrible reality of the first World War. It was the first modern war that used technology that was designed to kill the enemy in mass and it left a psychic scar that still hasn’t healed to this day. Nash’s work was among the best of this work.

The painting at the top is The Menin Road. It’s a powerful image that is large in scale, as you can see in the photo at the bottom.

5.1.5

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We’re in the Fourth of July weekend here but I am pretty busy, with still much to do to finish up work on my show, Self Determination,  for the West End Gallery that opens in less than two weeks, on July 14.

I’m pretty locked in and didn’t even realize until just the other day that the holiday was approaching. I probably will work through the holiday but that doesn’t bother me. It’s my choice, my preference, my freedom to choose to do so.

Maybe that’s what the holiday is about, after all.

I was reading from David McCullough‘s book, 1776, earlier today. His description of our citizen soldiers at the onset of the American Revolution made me feel closer to that spirit of independence. He described them as unkempt and undisciplined, displaying little or no respect for taking orders from anyone but willing to work tremendously hard toward a goal.

I can identify with that.

I thought for this Sunday I would share another favorite song, one that contains some good advice for this divided nation on it’s most unifying of holidays. It’s Let’s Work Together from the seminal 60’s blues-boogie band, Canned Heat. Words to heed and a great rolling rhythm to carry you through the holiday.

I love this video from 1969 on a German music show of the time, Beat-Club. It’s kind of cheesy with bad angles and an audience that seems like they were instructed to under no circumstances show any reaction to the music. And the band is hardly the most photogenic. But it shows the band in its original glory, with lead sing Bob “Bear” Hite and guitarist Alan “Owl” Wilson,  both of who died much too early, Wilson  a year later in 1970 and Hite in 1981.

Give a look and a listen and have a great day.

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Watching the video the other day of the Rose Garden hullabaloo with the faces of the wealthy and predominantly white men all gleefully gloating the mere passage of a House bill that has the potential to do far more harm than good made me angry and ashamed for this country.  To see them so wildly exulting something that does nothing to address the very real problems that exist in the availability and delivery of healthcare to our citizens is an abomination. They shift around some money to the advantage of those already well endowed and they celebrate like they personally defeated an alien force hellbent on overthrowing the Earth.

What drives these people? I am sure that if asked, they would spew the requisite “they’re there to serve the people“nonsense. But they seem to believe, if their actions are evidence of any sort, that the people they must serve the most are the people who need their assistance the least.

Do these men in congress really know the true extent and face of poverty or is it just an abstract notion, anonymous and in the distance? Personally, I believe they should be speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves, that they should be acting in order to lift those in need. Instead, they seem quite content in enriching their own bank accounts and those of their cronies while they do little, if anything, for the greater good.

Maybe they should take a few minutes and look at some of the photos of Lewis Hine, the photo-journalist and social activist.  His powerful photos taken around the turn of the century brought to light the plight of working children and spurred on the union movement that brought about great reforms for workers across the nation. Perhaps if they studied the faces of the children in these photos, they would get a better understanding of what should be their own purpose in their positions of responsibility. Those faces can still be found today, if they would only take the time to look.

Here’s a nice slideshow of some of Hine’s photos set to the Gary Jules version of the Tears For Fears song, Mad World.

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Tonight, the West End Gallery celebrates its 40th anniversary of selling art on Corning’s lovely Market Street. There is a coinciding opening for a retrospective show of the paintings of the gallery’s co-founder, Tom Gardner. The festivities begin at 4:30 this afternoon with a ribbon cutting and following that there will be music from guitarist Bill Groome, plenty to eat and drink and a few surprises.

I’ve said and written this many times before, but without the West End Gallery I have no idea what or where I would be. The chance to show my work given to me by then gallery owners Lin and Tom Gardner forever changed the direction of my life, opening new doors of opportunity that I couldn’t even imagine in my former life. Ultimately, it changed how I viewed the world and myself.

It’s rare that you can pinpoint a moment in time that alters your life in such a drastic manner that you can see the results that extend from that moment a la It’s a Wonderful Life. But I have such a moment from a day in early 1995 when Tom critiqued my work and Lin asked me to show a few pieces in their next show. Without that moment with them, every good thing that has come to me via my work most likely would have never happened. The numerous paintings that have found their way around the world, the 50 or so solo shows and the many, many wonderful people I have been fortunate to encounter through my work– all of it would probably have never occurred.

I don’t want to even consider what would be without that moment.

In my own way, I say “Thank You” to them every day I enter my studio and take part in the life and work that I so enjoy now. It is all due to that moment and I will never forget that.  Nor will I ever be able to thank them enough.

For forty years, the West End Gallery has given me and so many other artists an opportunity to take a chance on a different life.  It has persisted through the ups and downs of the economy, through booms and busts.  Now under the capable hands of Tom and Lin’s daughter Jesse and her husband, John, it is looking forward even as it celebrates its past tonight. They are working hard every day to make the gallery better in every way.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s another 40 years in the cards for the West End Gallery.

So, if you’re in the area tonight, make your way to the West End Gallery for a celebratory drink, a little bite, some great conversation and some wonderful art and music. If you’ve never been, they’ll make you feel right at home.

I can tell you that from first-hand experience.

Thank you for everything, Lin and Tom and Jesse and John.

I mean that literally.

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Noon hour in the Ewen Breaker, Pennsylvania Coal Co. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania.

Noon hour in the Ewen Breaker, South Pittston, Pennsylvania- Lewis Hines

The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Another Labor Day.

If you ask someone what the holiday represents they will no doubt say that it is symbolic end of summer.  A last picnic.  One last real summer weekend at the lake or shore. If you push them they might finally say that it honors the workers of this country.

But it really was created to celebrate the American Labor Movement, those unions and organizers that brought about all of the changes that Dr. King pointed out in the quote above from his 1965 speech before the AFL-CIO.

Fair wages, a shorter workday, a safer workplace, pensions, unemployment insurance– all of these things came from the hard and dangerous efforts of union organizers.  As King points out, the owners– the captains of industry—  did not agree willingly to these changes.  No, they fought with every resource at their disposal including the influence they bought from politicians and the use of violence.  The history of the labor movement is littered with bodies of workers killed in skirmishes with the forces of the owners.

Every step of progress throughout our history has been opposed by those in power.  But progress and change has always come thanks to the efforts of  people like those in the labor movement.

The use of children in the workforce was another thing that was ultimately changed by the labor movement.  It’s hard to believe that the scenes shown here in the famed photos of  photographer and social reformer Lewis Hine took place just over a hundred years ago in the coal mines of eastern Pennsylvania.  Harder yet to believe is that federal labor laws for child labor were not fully enacted until 1938.  Earlier attempts at legislation by congress in 1916 and 1922 had been challenged in court by industry and were deemed unconstitutional.

Lewis Hine -Penn Coal Co Ewen Breaker Pittston 1911Imagine your child (or your nephew or grandchild) at age 12.  Imagine them spending 10 or 12 or even 14 hours a day, six days a week in one of the breaker rooms of a coal mine like the one shown here on the right.  Hunched over in the gritty dust of the coal, they picked the coal for differing sizes and to sort out impurities.  Imagine the men who are shown in the photo with sticks poking your child, perhaps kicking him to speed him up.  Imagine all of this for  seven and a half cents per hour.

There was no school books for these kids.  No soccer.  No violin practices.  Just a future filled with misery and drudgery and most likely a black lung.  Imagine that.  And think that it was all taking place less than a hundred years ago and it ended because of the labor unions and the brave people who fought for them.

I know there are problems that arose in the unions over time.  They are not perfect by any means.  But that doesn’t take away from the incredible progress that they provided for our nation’s worker.  Despite their shortcomings, the idea of workers uniting to have one strong voice is as important now as it was a century ago.

So celebrate the day at the shore or in a picnic.  Have a great day.  But take one single moment and think of those kids in that Pennsylvania mine and the people who set them free.

Breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker of Pennsylvania Coal Co. For some of their names see labels 1927 to 1930. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania.

Breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker of Pennsylvania Coal Co.Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania. Photo: Lewis Hine

Group of Breaker boys. Smallest is Sam Belloma, Pine Street. (See label #1949). Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania.

Group of Breaker boys, Pennsylvania 1911  Photo: Lewis Hine

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Woody Guthrie -This Machine Kills Fascists

Woody Guthrie -This Machine Kills Fascists

Since we’re in the midst of the Fourth of July weekend, I thought this Sunday’s musical selection should be something with a definite American flavor.   The song is This Land Is Your Land from the great Woody Guthrie.

You are no doubt familiar with this song, probably thinking of it as a cheery, upbeat song about the beauty and breadth of our democracy, sung often by smiling church and school choruses.  It’s become a kind of populist national anthem which is sort of ironic given its beginnings and the words of the song.  You see, there are verses that are seldom sung by the choruses and flag waving nationalists, verses that very much change the tone and meaning of the song.

Guthrie wrote the song in the late 1930’s in response to the immense popularity at that time of  the Kate Smith version of God Bless America, written by Irving Berlin.  Guthrie saw the world coming apart due to the nationalistic extremism that had spread through Europe, producing fascist leaders such as Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy and Franco in Spain.

The original intro to God Bless America had the lines: While the storm clouds gather far across the sea / Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free / Let us all be grateful that we’re far from there, / As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.  That phrase that we’re far from there was later changed to for a land so fair.  Guthrie saw it as a call to an isolated form of nationalism, one that cast a blind eye to the perils lurking abroad that were beginning to spread here as well as our own problems at home.  Problems like poverty and inequality.

Guthrie wanted to address these problems in his retort to Berlin’s song.  At first, Guthrie sarcastically called his song God Blessed America For Me before naming it This Land Is Your Land.

Below are the two verses in the original version of This Land Is Your Land that are always omitted from those cheery civic versions speak to the ills of this country as Guthrie saw them, most noticeably  the greed which led to the great chasm of inequality between the wealthy and the poor of this land.  He questioned how a land with so much wealth and beauty, one based on the equality of man, could tolerate the extreme poverty and injustice he saw in his travels across this land.

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’
But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing.
This land was made for you and me.

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple,
by the relief office I saw my people.
As they stood hungry,
I stood there wondering if God blessed America for me.

It’s an interesting song that speaks to this crazy time in the world as blind nationalism rises abroad and here in the USA.  Give a listen to this wonderful version of the song from Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and pay special attention to the words.  Have a great Sunday and a great 4th.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQ78uDio_ao

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GC Myers- Ascending BirdI’ve been looking for a title for this new painting, an 18″ by 18″ canvas, for a week or so now.  A lot of things come to mind and I thought I had it for a while.  Then I was listening to some music and one of the songs just hit me.

It was Ascending Bird, a traditional Persian folk melody, played by the Silk Road Ensemble which is a large and loosely knit group ofmusicians, including the great Yo-Yo Ma, who hail from along that fabled route and play many of the traditional instruments. The Silk Road was the network of  ancient routes that traders used in linking the East and West over the centuries, from China through the Middle East to the Mediterranean. Both goods and ideas moved along the Silk Road.

This song is the Persian version of the Phoenix myth, of a bird who flies higher and higher toward the sun until it is engulfed in flames.  It then rises from the ashes as a new creature.

And that’s kind of how I see this painting.  The paths moving from dark to light signify a transformative journey and the Red Tree appears as a Phoenix-like figure emerging from a hillock bursting from a treed hillside.  The Red Tree almost seems to ready to take flight.  I see it as a moment of realization and redefinition.

Here is the Silk Road Ensemble with Y0-Yo Ma performing Ascending Bird.  The version here is a shorter one but has the dynamic punch that struck me.  You can hear a longer version here. Give a listen and have a great Sunday.

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