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Archive for the ‘Influences’ Category

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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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Joni Mitchell- The Mountain Loves the Sea- watercolor 1971

Over the years, I have often been asked about influences on my work and I often list several artists that I feel pushed me in certain directions. Then I also point out that there have been influences that fall outside of the painter mode. For example, literature, poetry and film come immediately to mind. Then there’s pop culture such as cartoons and comics, television and so much more. I’ve mentioned that there was a Coca Cola tv ad back in the 80’s that featured saturated colors– reds and golds– that stuck in my mind for years before I began painting.

There are so many contributing sources of inspiration.

I mention this today because as I was looking for a piece of music to play this  morning, I came across the old Joni Mitchell album from 1974, Court and Spark. It was a great album, one that I loved even as a teenage boy. I had not listened to it in years but each of the songs was imprinted in me by this time.

I also hadn’t looked closely at its album cover for many, many years though it was a beautiful cover, cream colored with a small watercolor painting, The Mountain Loves the Sea, that Joni Mitchell had painted a few years before, tastefully in its center. It had a simple elegance that I recognized, again even as a teenage boy. But it was just one of those things that, because I had seen it so many times before, I didn’t look with any attention at all.

But I looked closer today at the painting in the cover’s center and was surprised at how much my own work sometimes held echoes of this little painting. I would never thought of Joni Mitchell as an influence beyond her music but looking at this little image made me rethink that.

Maybe it was just one of those little things that push you without your knowledge in one direction or another. Influences that you internalize and can’t recognize or name until you come face to face with them. We all have them, those small things we take in and blend together to make us who we are.

I am glad this was one of those things for me. So, let’s give a listen to the title track from Court and Spark.

Have a great Sunday.

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Édouard Vuillard – Landscape at Saint-Jacut

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To say that a thing is beautiful is simply an act of faith, not a measurement on some kind of scale.

–Édouard Vuillard

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If you asked me about my favorite painters, Édouard Vuillard (1868-1940) is not a name that would come to mind. In fact, I never even gave much thought to his work and didn’t have much of an opinion on it. I knew a little bit about the interior scenes for which he is well known but if you asked me to name or even describe his best known work, I would be at a loss.

But the more I look and the more I see of his work, the more of a fan I become of Édouard Vuillard. There is such a wide array of style in the body of his work that shows his exploration and growth.

The interior scenes I once shrugged over now seem to be wonderfully dense explorations into abstraction, pattern and color. There is so much to latch onto in each piece that a cursory glimpse doesn’t often suffice. I now see his work with a bit of a sense of awe and can honestly take that leap of faith and say that I see them as beautiful.

I even like a few of the things from him I have read, like the words at the top. Beauty is indeed subjective, not measurable with any set scale. My sense of beauty may well differ from yours. You may be moved by things that do nothing for me and vice versa. I don’t know that there is any one things, any one piece of art, that is absolutely beautiful to everyone.

Maybe there is. Who knows? Certainly not me.

He also wrote: I do not belong to any school, I simply want to do something that is personal to my self

These words depict that need to create something that is only mine, not something instantly attributable to a school or movement or any other artist, that has always been the driving force behind my own work. I don’t know that I have always been successful but I can say that Vuillard definitively did create a distinct body of art, beautiful work that is all his own.

Just good stuff. Here are a few examples from a sea of choices.

 

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Since I have much to do this morning, I am running this post from back in 2013 that concerns a few early pieces. I came across one of these pieces, Doug’s First Day on the Job, early this morning and, while it made me chuckle, it reminded me of current events. Thought this post was worth looking at again.

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GC Myers Early Interior sm“Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?”

Charles Bukowski, Post Office

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I have often shown early work here, stuff from when I was still trying to find a path forward. Most of it is from before I ever thought  that showing my work in public was a possibility. As I have pointed out, I still revisit this early work on a regular basis in an effort to stay connected with that time in which the need to create was the only motivation needed. There’s also an element of backtracking in this as well, trying to put together how this work somehow led to what I do now.

Sometimes it is hard to see the connections as the work is so singular and never followed up on, then or now. I think those are the pieces from that time that intrigue me the most, making me wonder how my journey forward from that time would have been different had I chosen and stayed on that path.

For example, here are three pieces from around the same time, all painted within a month or so of each other back in 1994. None really lead directly forward to the current time but I really always enjoy seeing these three pieces, wondering what my motivation was at the time. The first , shown above, is an interior scene that just formed on the paper. I had no idea what was going to be there, outside of the checkered tablecloth. I remember that the cross on the wall was a last minute addition, one that changed the whole feel of the piece. I can understand why I didn’t follow this path but it still makes me wonder.

GC Myers Still Life smThe next was this still life, here on the left. I remember this piece well, having ambivalent feelings about it as a whole. I liked the clear graphic look of it but it was almost too clean, too sharp. It had really good eye appeal but it seemed all surface to me. I see things from this piece that I did bring forward, such as some of the clearness of the colors which I like in some instances. The thing that always strikes me is that I see a face in profile, looking to the right. Faces subconsciously built into the composition are something I often look for in my work, feeling a curious satisfaction when I find them. I wish I knew why. Maybe that’s what draws me back to these early pieces.

GC Myers- Doug's First day on the Job smThe last was one that had a title, Doug’s First Day on the Job.  I remember this as a piece that I viewed as an exercise even as I started, experimenting with forms and color. The resulting scrum of arms and fists with the strange authoritarian figure in the foreground, hooded and  pointing ominously out of frame reminded me of the chaos and confusion of  a kid’s first day on a new job. A strange environment with new procedures to learn and strange new people who struggle with each other and boss the new guy around. I knew even as I painted this that this was not my path but I enjoyed this piece anyway. It had a cleansing effect and was a wonderful lesson in color and form .

Plus it made me chuckle.

I don’t know that there is any great connection between these pieces or to my future and current work. I always wonder though at how these disparate  pieces formed in such a short time, wondering if I have that same burst of energy within me still. Maybe that is the reason for this backtracking, looking for that energy source, that fount of inspiration.

I don’t know…

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