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Archive for the ‘Influences’ Category

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In these gaudy times, we think we will shortly reach the point where everything is known, but the fact is we are ignoring the essential, which is love of all living things, of all beauty both visible and hidden.

–Georges Rouault (France, 1871- 1958)

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Looking at the work of Georges Rouault, I am as excited by it now as when I first encountered it many years ago. It is fearlessly painted and brimming with the fervor with which he imbued all his work. It makes me want to do better, makes me want to make marks that are absolute expressions and proof of my being in this world.

Inspiring stuff, indeed.

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We live in a time of chaos and confusion, amidst a constant bombardment of information and misinformation, an indecipherable babble of yelled opinions and enough stupidity to fill all the oceans and flood every coastline of this planet.

And that’s on a good day.

This morning I found myself longing for something, some music or reading, that would take me away from this maelstrom of madness. I came to the music of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt whose piece Tabula Rasa was a big influence on my early work.

His work is the antidote to the turbulence of our time. It is what I would call slow music. It is the sort of music that requires you to pause to hear it fully. Doing so slows down the elevated heartbeat, syncs it to a pace that seems to be a meditative drone that has long resided in us though we have long forgotten our ability to find it within ourselves.

For quite some time I have enjoyed Pärt’s adaptation of My Heart’s in the Highlands, which is a 1789 poem/song from the Scottish poet Robert Burns. Listening to it reminds me of the time spent alone wandering in the woods and fields in the hills around our home as a youth. Those times had that same pace, that same heartbeat and silence that made it so memorable in my mind.

Many times I have found my mind wandering back to those times and the spaces and silences that created a sense of home within me. Burns’ words speak a truth for me especially in these times so filled with sound and fury.

Allow yourself to pause for a moment and give a listen. Perhaps you will find your own heart in the highlands…

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,

My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer –

A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;

My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North

The birth place of Valour, the country of Worth;

Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,

The hills of the Highlands forever I love.

Farewell to the mountains high cover’d with snow;

 Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;  

Farewell to the forrests and wild-hanging woods;

Farwell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,

My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer

Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;

My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.

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Ben Shahn

Ben Shahn -Jersey Homesteads (Roosevelt NJ) Mural

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The artist must operate on the assumption that the public consists in the highest order of individual; that he is civilized, cultured, and highly sensitive both to emotional and intellectual contexts. And while the whole public most certainly does not consist in that sort of individual, still the tendency of art is to create such a public – to lift the level of perceptivity, to increase and enrich the average individual’s store of values… I believe that it is in a certain devotion to concepts of truth that we discover values.

–Ben Shahn

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Born in Lithuania in 1898, Ben Shahn emigrated to America with his family in 1906. Throughout his career, up until his death in 1969, Shahn’s early training as a lithographer and graphic designer played a large part in his work, giving it a symbolic visual impact that made him one of he leading lights of social realist artists. His work often dealt with the human condition, particularly that of the common man.

Ben Shahn- The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti

While many of the themes in his work were labeled as leftist, his work championed civil rights and workers’ rights and stood against injustice and prejudice. He did a large series of works devoted to Sacco and Vanzetti. Designed to communicate a distinctly human point of view, his work always had a profound voice, one that called for the betterment of all people.

His was the work of the Everyman.

As he said: The natural reaction of the artist will be strongly towards bringing man back into focus as the center of importance.

I think that is a very important thing to keep in mind as is the quote at the top of the post, about how an artist must aspire to the highest human values of the public, even though they may not actually possess these qualities, with the hope that the artist’s work can lift them to a higher level. It’s a thought that should linger in the mind of any artist who hopes and desires to make a true difference in this world with their work.

I am not giving a lot of details here about the life and career of Shahn. But I hope the few that I have shared along with some of his images will inspire you to take a closer look at this interesting and important voice in modern art.

Ben Shahn- Father and Child 1946

Ben Shahn- The Burial Society

Ben Shahn- Nocturne

Ben Shahn- Four Piece Orchestra 1944

Ben Shahn- Self Portrait Among Churchgoers

Ben Shahn- Two Witnesses

Ben Shahn- Unemployment

 

 

 

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The American poet Mary Oliver died yesterday at the age of 83. I can’t claim to know much about poetry but I always found her work engaging and enlightening. There was a plain-spoken quality to her work that gave her musings the feel and clarity of newfound wisdom. She is gone but her voice will carry on. Here’s a post from a couple of years ago that was about the relationship of a painting of mine to one of her better known poems, Wild Geese.

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GC Myers- The Singular HeartYou do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver

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A while back, a person interested in my work sent me the poem above, Wild Geese.  It was written by the esteemed Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver. This person wanted to know if I would be interested in translating this poem into into one of my paintings for them. I replied that when I had some time I would gladly do that as I think the poem strikes a chord that very much resonates in my work.

After a short while, this person contacted me again and said they had been looking at my work and had found a painting that they felt captured the spirit of the poem. The painting is the one shown at the top, The Singular Heart.

I was thrilled by the choice. It had the feeling and message of the poem without being absolutely literal.  It’s exactly how I wanted to portray it. And the message and title of the painting fell perfectly in line with Oliver’s poem.  The Red Tree stands, singular and alone, with the realization that it has a unique place, as does every being, in the family of things.

I told this person a bit about this painting and an experience I had with it that stuck with me.  Once it hung in my home area gallery, the West End Gallery, and I met with a local college art class there. One of the questions was which of the pieces there was my favorite. I normally don’t answer that question because I have always felt that any painting that I decide to show has something unique to it, some quality that makes it special to me. Kind of like a parent with their kids.

But on this occasion I didn’t hesitate and pointed at this painting.  I told them if I were to try to describe in one painting what I wanted to say with the body of my work and what I hoped for myself as a person, that this piece would summarize it perfectly.

I told this person that I felt it was perfect choice and was pleased when they chose this painting to represent the poem in their home. It means a lot when any painting finds a home but is even more special when I know that it resonates on many levels with its owner, that it goes deeper than the surface.

Here’s a clip of Mary Oliver reading her poem, Wild Geese:

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All that is necessary to paint well is to be sincere.

–Maurice Denis

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In my opinion, sincerity is a huge part of how an artist’s work comes across, perhaps even more than the actual ability of the artist. Sincerity carries the emotion, the sensation, of the work of art.  It is the part of art that moves and speaks to you.

I guess that is why I was drawn this morning to the simple quote above from painter Maurice Denis (1870-1943). I’ve been an admirer of his work for some time and for some reason have yet to mention him here. He was not one of the bigger names of art in his time but was important in that era that encompassed the transition from traditional representation to impressionism then on to modern art. He was part of Les Nabis which translates from both Hebrew and Arabic as The Prophets. It was a group of young French artists who followed in the artistic footsteps of Paul Gauguin.

As Denis wrote about Gauguin’s influence:

We learned from Gauguin that every work of art is a transposition, a caricature, a passionate equivalent of a sensation which has been experienced. He freed us from all restraints which the idea of copying naturally placed on our painter’s instincts. All artists are now free to express their own personality.

That basically deals with the same sort of sincerity mentioned at the top f the page.

Denis had a long career that moved through a number of different phases, all done well and with sincerity. There is much in his work that speaks to me, things that I wish to carry into my own work. Things I have already used, in some cases. I urge you to check out his wiki bio or some other reference sites to find out more.

A parting line from Denis:  Don’t lose sight of the essential objectives of painting, which are expression, emotion, delectation; to understand the means, to paint decoratively, to exalt form and color. 


 

 

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A number of artists, take Picasso and De Chirico for examples, talk about about trying to maintain the mind of a child in order to create art. I think there is definitely something to that.

I know that I feel best about my work when kids are attracted to it and know a work is at its best when a kid gives it their approval. They look at it without preconceptions and biases, judging it solely on how it speaks to them personally. They often can read the emotional tenor and meaning of the work without needing explanation of any sort. They seem to have a built-in ability to read the innate symbolism of art.

How to stay in that dreamlike state, that mind of a child? That is the real question and I don’t know that there is an answer. Maybe not trying to answer the question is part of the answer. Just do the work with the trust that you are being open and honest without condescending your message to anyone. Perhaps then the work may approach that goal, might speak with and to the mind of a child.

Or so I hope.

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Diego Rivera- Zapatista Landscape 1915

 

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As an artist I have always tried to be faithful to my vision of life, and I have frequently been in conflict with those who wanted me to paint not what I saw but what they wished me to see.

–Diego Rivera

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Big fan of the work of Diego Rivera (1886-1957), the great Mexican painter/muralist and husband of Frida Kahlo. There is much I love in his work such as the way his colors harmonize and soar off the surfaces, the sheer brilliance of his compositions, the scale and breadth of his murals and the fact that his work was beautiful and powerful in whatever genre or style he chose at any given moment. He was also fearless in expressing his political and philosophical beliefs in his work, often becoming a strong element in his work.

I also admire his absolute devotion to his own voice in his work, as noted in the quote above. He painted his own vision, not what others desired him to see. That’s a big thing for any artist and not something easily done. Too often artists try to work for the approval of other eyes, for people who want their work to remain as they have always known it.

It’s understandable from the perspective of a viewer to want an artist to remain in that space that first attracted the viewer. They know and like the work as it is and perhaps can’t imagine it becoming more than it is if it somehow evolves or changes. Or they fear it will become less or something that doesn’t speak to them in the same way. As I said, it’s understandable.

But from the artist’s point of view this present a threat in that this may stop them from expanding their creative vision. They begin to be afraid to go off their own beaten path, to try new things, to move out of their comfort zone to challenge themselves, and to grow their self-created universe. They remain in a known space and may never know how expansive their vision might be if they only tried.

From what I know, Diego Rivera always moved to new creative spaces with his work. He painted with his own voice, even in his commissioned murals. I still stumble on pieces of his that surprise me.

A true inspiration.

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Diego Rivera’s Mural at the City College of San Francisco

Detroit Institute of Arts Mural Segment

Diego Rivera- Flower Seller

Diego Rivera- The Alarm Clock

Diego Rivera- Nocturnal Landscape 1947

Diego Rivera- Symbolic Landscape 1940

Diego Rivera- View of Toledo 1912

Detroit Institute of Arts Mural Segment

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