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Archive for the ‘Influences’ Category

I came across the post below earlier this morning. It was posted several years back, just a couple of weeks after my father was admitted to to a local nursing facility, suffering from Alzheimer’s dementia. Four years have passed now and his condition has, unsurprisingly, deteriorated. He is now among the folks I describe in the the last paragraphs below. I visited this past week and basically just sat across from him, an enforced six feet away for safety’s sake, and looked at him as he lulled in his padded reclining wheelchair.

I called across to him several times throughout the visit, Basically, a hello in there kind of thing. But there was no response, not even a flutter of his closed eyes. He was there but he certainly was not there, as well. I wonder what part of his memories his mind was moving through at that time, what form of reality it was taking.

Anyway, here’s that post from several years back, including another great song from the late John Prine:

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GC Myers Early Work 1994I have a square cardboard box in one of the rooms of my studio. It’s not much to look at it and it certainly doesn’t have any significance attached to its exterior appearance.  But for me it’s a treasure chest, my secret bounty. You see, this rather plain box holds hundreds of small pieces from my earliest forays in paint from twenty some years ago.

They are not significant to anyone other than me. If you were to look in it you might not feel anything more than you would from looking at the old buttons, matchbooks and other tiny souvenirs of times past in someone else’s dresser drawers.

Many are clumsy attempts and most are deeply flawed in some way. But for me, they hold so much more deep meaning than is apparent from a first look. They are my artifacts, my history, my ponderings, my inner thoughts and my memory.

They are me.

There’s always a special feeling when I delve into them, like that feeling of looking at old family photos and vividly remembering moments that seem to have happened eons ago. I sometimes marvel at the brightness of my youth at that point and sometimes frown at the foolishness of it. I see where I thought I was going and can compare it to where I finally landed. There are ideas there that are dismal failures that make me smile now and make me wonder if I should have pursued them further.

And there are some that make me happier now than when they were done. Time has added a completeness to them that was lacking then.

And there are pieces like the untitled one above from back in 1994 that make me just stop and wonder where they came from. They seem like lost memories. I know I made this piece up in my mind but can’t remember why. I have skimmed over it a hundred times and never given it more than a shrug. But today I find myself looking intently at it as though it holds something for me that I can’t just pull out of it.

There’s a frustration in that but since I know that it is mine, I don’t really mind. I will have it for years to come and can question it again and again. Maybe my mind will release the secret or at least form a substitute reality at some point, one that brings me closure of some kind.

Who knows?

Today’s Sunday Morning music deals a bit with some of the same feelings. Well, I think it does.  It’s Hello In There from John Prine. Visiting my father in the nursing home has been hard, not just for the visits with him which still leave me shaken a little after each visit, but for the sight of the other older folks in even deeper states of dementia as they sit in their chairs in the hallways and dining rooms. There is a lonely blankness in their eyes that is heart-breaking.  You wish you could reach into them and pull their old self out in the open if only for a moment. But all you can do is say hello and hope they hear the words and the feeling in it.

Anyway, this is a great old song from John Prine. I hope you’ll give it a listen and have a great day.
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“Bold Run”- Now at the West End Gallery

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“Most people are convinced that as long as they are not overtly forced to do something by an outside power, their decisions are theirs, and that if they want something, it is they who want it. But this is one of the great illusions we have about ourselves. A great number of our decisions are not really our own but are suggested to us from the outside; we have succeeded in persuading ourselves that it is we who have made the decision, whereas we have actually conformed with expectations of others, driven by the fear of isolation and by more direct threats to our life, freedom, and comfort.”

― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

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Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
Nothin’, don’t mean nothin’ hon’ if it ain’t free, no no

Kris Kristofferson, Me and Bobby McGee:

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What is real freedom?

I can’t say for sure. Wish I could.

Lately, I have been thinking about the 1941 book from Erich Fromm, Escape From Freedom. In it, Fromm writes about that we actually have a fear of freedom.  Real freedom requires personal responsibility for our decisions and actions and creates an almost unbearable anxiety in man. Real freedom means living without a safety net, where we decide who and what we are, what we want from life, where we are held accountable for each decision we make.

Put that way, freedom sounds much more perilous.

As a result, we have fostered a desire to be told what we should be and what we should do. Fromm makes the point that we want someone to make the decisions that guide our lives while maintaining the illusion that we have freely made them.

“Modern man lives under the illusion that he knows ‘what he wants,’ while he actually wants what he is supposed to want. In order to accept this it is necessary to realize that to know what one really wants is not comparatively easy, as most people think, but one of the most difficult problems any human being has to solve. It is a task we frantically try to avoid by accepting ready-made goals as though they were our own.”

A life of real freedom is scary and difficult so it is always tempting to just fit in, to accept a bit of comfort and security in exchange for losing a large degree of that freedom. Doing this make us susceptible to falling prey to those with less than honorable intentions.

“Escape from Freedom attempts to show, modern man still is anxious and tempted to surrender his freedom to dictators of all kinds, or to lose it by transforming himself into a small cog in the machine, well fed, and well clothed, yet not a free man but an automaton.”

The concept of this book seems to be playing out in real time lately.

I don’t know that we, myself included, understand the concept of real freedom. I have tried to shape and live a free life but have I succeeded?

I don’t know.

I will continue to look for an answer but in the meantime, here’s this week’s Sunday Morning Music. It’s I Want to Be Free, an old Leiber and Stoller hit first sung by Elvis Presley in the 1957 film Jailhouse Rock. While Elvis does a fine job with the song, I much prefer this version from Robert Gordon who had a nice run as a rockabilly artist with several memorable albums in the 1980s. Here, I think he fills in the blanks that Elvis left in his version.

Give a listen and have a good day. And take a minute to think about what you think real freedom is.

 

 

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“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

Maya Angelou, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes

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This painting, Nestledown, 18″ by 26″ on paper, is part pf my current show at the West End Gallery, It has the feel of some of my older work with its simple design and spew lines at the edges where the paint has broke free of the picture plane. This gives it a feeling of finding a place of comfort in my eyes, one of security where you can let down your guard a bit.

This feeling is enhanced for me by the multicolored patches of color in the foreground. While they remind me of a patchwork quilt there is something else in the quality of the color that heightens the feeling, something I couldn’t put my finger on for quite some time after I painted this piece. It came to me the other day when I was looking at a book of work by the painter Egon Schiele.

This piece reminded me of one of his paintings, Agony, from 1912, shown here on the right. It shows a person wrapped in a patchwork quilt with a monk laying next to them, his own robe serving as blanket of comfort. As soon as I saw this piece I saw how the oranges, yellows, and reds of its quilt related to the colors in my painting. They provided much the same service in both paintings, creating warmth and security.

I wasn’t surprised by seeing this link. I have long admired the work of Schiele, especially the way he treated his colors, imbuing even the brightest colors with dark undertones. This creates a depth and gravity of feeling that transcends the color itself. This is something I attempted to adapt for my own process many years ago, something that I consider a major turning point in the evolution of my work.

This painting wasn’t consciously in mind when I painted Nestledown but it certainly echoed somehow in memory. And finding comfort in times of trial and agony is a thread that runs through this show. It’s something that hits close to home  both as a nation, as we suffer through the multitude of ills that plague us at present, and as an individual as my family deals with the last days of my father’s life.

We all just want to find a bit of comfort, a place where we can nestle down.

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“Nirvana is right here, in the midst of the turmoil of life. It is the state you find when you are no longer driven to live by compelling desires, fears, and social commitments, when you have found your center of freedom and can act by choice out of that. Voluntary action out of this center is the action of the bodhisattvas — joyful participation in the sorrows of the world. You are not grabbed, because you have released yourself from the grabbers of fear, lust, and duties.” 

 Joseph CampbellThe Power of Myth

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I think about these words from the late mythologist Joseph Campbell quite a lot. It’s one of those bits that I keep close at hand, ready to pull out whenever I find myself feeling the onset of fears or anxieties about things that  I cannot control. Or when I begin to desire things that I don’t need at all. Or whenever I feel pressured to do things purely out of some social obligation.

His words remind me that true freedom lies in finding your own path. Fear, desire and obligation are their own paths and once you begin down those paths, you are further away from your own path of freedom, further from being, as Campbell put it, a joyful participant in the sorrows of the world.

Campbell’s words make it seem so simple yet, as we all know, those other paths are difficult to avoid. We are reactive creatures and often move to follow our first impulse in most situations. Learning to calm our impulses, to still our fears and desires, is the first step down a path of own making.

The painting above, Night Nirvana, a 30″ by 40″ canvas, is from my upcoming West End Gallery show and I attached these words to this piece immediately after it was finished. There’s a great stillness in it and a quiet reassuring voice in it, one that tells me that I control my reactions, that I should follow the path I make for myself. It is a path built on voluntary action, not reaction or fear. A path made with conscious choices, not obligations nor the decisions of others.

The message I take from this painting is simple: Your path is your path alone and there is great peace in knowing that. It is enough for each of us.

I am going to think on that for a while…

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It has bothered me all my life that I do not paint like everybody else.

–Henri Matisse

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Well, Mr. Matisse certainly did not paint like everybody else and I, for one, am glad of it.

But I believe I know what he is saying. As an artist, you’re always torn between poles of confidence.

When it is at its highest point, you believe so strongly in what you are doing that it doesn’t matter what everybody else’s work is like.

But at the low points, you lose confidence in the credibility of your own voice and vision. At these low points it seems like it would be easier to have the comfort of being able to judge your own work against others who do the same type of work so that you could gauge whether your creations were worthy of notice.

I certainly have swung wildly between these two poles and have at points wished that I painted more like other artists, as though I would somehow benefit from their credibility. I know that this sort of thinking is misplaced and the result of low self-esteem in that moment, but it happens. And on a more regular basis than one might think.

But the work itself is usually the voice of reason, the thing that brings me around once more. Just getting lost in the creation of a piece and sitting in front of it in the aftermath, still fully immersed in the life force it then exudes, washes away that need to be like everybody else.

But even in that moment, I know that nagging feeling, that desire to be like everybody else, will still be there waiting for me when I inevitably swing back to that other pole.

So, Mr. Matisse, thank you for not being like everybody else. I know how hard it sometimes must have felt but we appreciate you staying true to your own voice.

Here are a few more of his interiors, a group of his work that I really love.

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

— A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

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It seems like this current period of time, this year we call 2020, might be memorable. It definitely falls somewhere among those terms that Dickens set out in the opening paragraph of his A Tale of Two Cities.

I’m still waiting for the best of times part but maybe it will eventually show its shining face at some point this year. Got my fingers crossed on that one.

The painting at the top is part of my Social Distancing show that opens 4 weeks from tomorrow, June 5, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. As I was working on it, further into the process it felt like it was acting as a marker in some way of this year. It certainly reflected the social distancing in the show’s title.

But there was something more than that to it, something more like the Dickensian ( finally got to use that word!) words above. Perhaps best of times, worst of times sort of stuff.

Season of light and season of darkness, definitely.

I think it’s a fitting piece for this period with its fractured sky and darker, ominous tones set against the light from the sun/moon(?) and the sturdiness of the house.

It is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Not fearful either nor foolishly filled with hubris. The word I might use is enduring.

Kind of like the final speech from Ma Joad ( played brilliantly by Jane Darwell) that ends the film version of The Grapes of Wrath:

“I ain’t never gonna be scared no more. I was, though. For a while it looked like we was beat. Good and beat. Looked like we didn’t have nobody in the world but enemies. Like nobody was friendly no more. Made me feel kinda bad and scared too, like we was lost and nobody cared…. Rich fellas come up and they die, and their kids ain’t no good and they die out too, but we keep on coming. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out, they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, Pa, ’cause we’re the people.”

That speech always moves me because it speaks so strongly to my own survival instincts. There have been times when I wanted to give up but this same drive that Ma Joad describes kicks in.

You take the beating today but you keep plodding forward, doing whatever is needed to see the next day.

Because maybe that’s where the answer will be.

That’s what I see in this painting. Enduring. Resilient. Good time, bad times, fight through the darkness and look for the light. Just keep going on and not giving up.

I am calling this painting, which is 20″ wide by 30″ tall on wood panel, In the Year 2020.

It was somewhat borrowed from the old Zager & Evans 1968 hit In the Year 2525. That time 50 some years back felt as apocalyptic as this moment seems now. I am sure there was a lot of use of the best of times, worst of times at that point. But we did somehow endure the turbulence of that time. There might be much more ahead of us now that we will have to struggle past but we will most likely endure and look back at this year with mixed feelings someday, remembering the awfulness along with the goodness we discovered alongside it.

Here’s a video of that Zager & Evans song set to visuals from the 1925 silent futuristic dystopian classic from director Fritz Lang, Metropolis.
Have a good day and stay strong.

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Dr. Seuss- Gosh Do I Look As Old As All That

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Say what you mean and act how you feel,

because those who matter don’t mind,

and those who mind don’t matter.

Dr. Seuss

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I think these words about sincerity from the wonderful and wise Dr. Seuss are good advice for just about anybody.  For myself, I pass this advice on to young artists. Make your own meaning and feeling the focus of your work…

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I ran the short post above several years ago and it resonated with me again this morning. For one thing, it reminded me of how much the imagery and messaging of Dr. Seuss influenced and informed my own perspectives and art. I never thought about it at the time I started drawing and painting but his way of representing the landscapes of his worlds very much infiltrated my own way of looking at my own inner worlds. I see the bendy curves of his trees and smile because I see them in many of my own Red Trees.

The other reason this older post resonated with me were his simple words about honestly saying what you mean and acting how you feel. There are many days when I am trying to write this blog and I feel inhibited by not wanting to offend anyone with my own personal views. I have many times set aside posts that I deemed potentially too offensive. But more and more, I am less shy about sharing my honest opinions for just the reasons that the good Dr. points out: those that matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.

And that also translates to my work. I am also less shy in sharing work that moves outside my comfort zones for this same simple reason. I figure if I am being honest and sincere in my work and in my opinions, what do I have to fear from the opinions of others?

So, thanks for that Dr. Seuss, wherever you may be. Your words and art and storytelling have changed the worlds of many, myself included.

Here are a few more of his paintings that weren’t in the original post:

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Jean Arp- Torso of a Giant 1964

Jean Arp- Torso of a Giant 1964

 

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Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation… tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego. His anxiety subsides. His inhuman void spreads monstrously like a gray vegetation.

–Jean Arp

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GC Myers- Quiescence

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I had a quote on the last post with a quote from artist Jean Arp about man turning his back on silence. Rather than savoring the quiet, he runs from it, instead distracting himself with all manner of noise. Anything to keep him from facing the fears that the quiet represents to him.

It’s a theme that has been large in the background of my work. Early on, when I felt that I wanted to be a writer, I would find myself writing about large open spaces and the caverns of silence that rested in these places. I called it the Big Quiet. Of course, it’s a pretty limited subject and there is a certain redundancy in writing about silence and stillness. I mean, how can you use the noise of words to aptly describe the absence of noise?

So I gave up writing about it and went on with my life, always with an eye out for this Big Quiet. I don’t know that I was craving it or fearing it at most points. My life was pretty much filled with the noise of the world, all the snaps and pops of sound and distraction that creep into every living space. I was like so many others who needed the security blanket of sound to protect them from what they might discover if they were forced to face the silence.

But the sounds that I hoped would lessen my anxiety only seemed to feed it.

However, painting gave me a path to finding this Big Quiet. It was wordless and calm, creating an inner space absent of the sounds of the world that I was and am still occupying. It became a destination, an oasis to turn to when the din of world became too loud, too overbearing. It eased my fears of looking inward and allowed me to savor the quiescence of the brief moments I actually myself there in those scenes of stillness and calm. It became real and necessary to me.

I don’t know where this going, this wordy noise I’m creating about the stillness I find now. I just felt that I should add a bit of context to my work, to give a an understanding of what I hope to take from it for myself. This moment came about from running across the image above, a piece from several years ago that is called, fittingly, Quiescence. It’s a piece that brings me quiet immediately and seeing it at any time makes me again think of the main reason that I paint.

So, I am going to be quiet now…

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The post above is comprised of two posts that ran here on consecutive days back in 2013. They served a great purpose for me this morning when I read them again for the first time in many years which made me think they were worth sharing.

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Rockets, moon shots
Spend it on the have-nots
Money, we make it
Fore we see it, you’ll take it

Oh, make you wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life

-Gil Scott Heron, Inner City Blues ( Make Me Wanna Holler)

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I showed a painting last week in progress last week and mentioned that I was working on a series of cityscapes. This is a different painting from that series that I am calling Inner City Blue. It is 22″ wide by 28″ high on canvas.

These pieces are painted in the same way as the Multitudes series that consisted of masses of faces. I normally start at one spot and just work outward from it with little or no plan as to where it will go or how it will emerge. There’s an excitement in working this way because there is always the tension that comes from not knowing whats going to come out.

I often find myself eager with anticipation as the painting progresses. It’s still a mystery at that point and I need that. That not knowing is a big part of how I work, a driving force. I don’t think I would last long if I knew with any certainty how any painting would come out in the end.

And these cityscapes, with all their moving parts and angles and shapes and shades, are totally unpredictable. And that just engrosses me in the process, allows me to find little bits of meaning and beauty in the cracks and crevices that are being created.

Hopefully, a little bit of what I am getting from these pieces comes across to the viewer. That reaction is as unpredictable as the painting itself.

I compared these cityscapes to the Multitudes series earlier. There are similarities beyond the process. Much as I left the faces without eyes in the Multitudes pieces, I leave elements out of these cityscapes. There are no traces of people on the streets or in the windows. There is no signage, no lettering. No street lights or anything on the street. It creates a skeletal effect, showing the bones of what gives the city its appearance while leaving a void.

That void could be described as the anonymity that very large cities often provide.

You know what I mean. That sense of being lost in a throng of faceless people moving on the street. Little, if any, eye contact and as you jostle along with the crowd, your own eyes are locked on some far distant point, fending off the intrusive eyes of the street vendors, hustlers and beggars.

You try to look stoic and determined, like you’re on a mission that should not be interrupted. You’re like a silent rocket hurtling through the space between the buildings that tower above the street and each building is a new alien world to you, filled with life and lives about which you know little.

A stranger in a strange land. That feeling might be the best way to describe what drives much of my work. I often feel out of place in this world– a stranger in a strange land– and am trying to put it, in my work, into some sort of order that allows me to fit in.

Don’t know if that makes any sense. But I do like these city pieces and feel there is something in them that I need to see. So, I will keep looking for a while.

Here’s the song Inner City Blues (Make me Wanna Holler), written by Gil Scott Heron and performed by the great Marvin Gaye. I didn’t mean to borrow the title but after I had titled it I remembered that there was the song. So, here it is. Enjoy.

 

 

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Stuart Davis- Swing Landscape 1938

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For a number of years Jazz had a tremendous influence on my thoughts about art and life.

-Stuart Davis

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I wrote yesterday about how as an artist I am influenced by many things other than the paintings of other artists. I thought I’d share some paintings from artist Stuart Davis (1892-1964) whose work itself is considered a huge influence on the Pop Art movement of the 1960’s. I’ve been a fan of his for many years, particularly after seeing how his work evolved through his career from a Robert Henri trained Modernist whose early work echoed the influence of Van Gogh through a Picasso inspired Cubist period into his own style with its own vocabulary that was largely inspired by the Jazz of the time.

I also always keep something in mind he said when I am at work: Always remember that in a painting, color has a position, and a place, and it makes space. As a result, I try to make color a vital element in my paintings, sometimes more important than the actual subject of the painting.

But, this morning let’s just look at a few of Davis’ Jazz inspired paintings and take a look and a listen to the great Duke Ellington‘s Jazz classic Take the A Train. I get the feeling Stuart Davis might have painted a bit to this track.

I am not sure but the video here looks to be a Soundie, which were short, well produced music films that were played on video jukeboxes in bars and clubs the late 1940’s. They mainly featured popular black Jazz musicians, giving these often musicians, who really didn’t have an many outlets for their music as their white counterparts, an exciting venue that really spread the popularity of their music.


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