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Archive for the ‘Influences’ Category

I am often asked about the meaning of the tree that looms large in my painting.  I normally stumble around while trying to explain what feeling, what meaning I find in this form.  But I recently came across an extraordinary short essay from a favorite author of mine, Herman Hesse, that expresses all those things I have tried to say about trees with my own words and images.  From Trees: Reflections and Poems, this is just a beautiful piece that rings the bell for me:

GC Myers- Moon Communion smFor me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

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GC Myers- In the Inner PlaceShakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And that’s what it is. The nature is your nature, and all of these wonderful poetic images of mythology are referring to something in you. When your mind is simply trapped by the image out there so that you never make the reference to yourself, you have misread the image.
Joseph Campbell (with Bill Moyers), The Power of Myth

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I think that the words above that Joseph Campbell spoke during his conversation with Bill Moyers for  The Power of Myth speak beautifully for both mythology and art, at least in my view.  I believe that we truly connect with myth and art when we see it as personal to ourselves, as being somehow symbolic of our own experience and being.  Our emotions and reactions.

Of course, many myths and much in art may not speak to us on this personal level.  I certainly don’t expect my work to speak to everyone no matter how much I may wish that it could.  It simply can’t.  My work is a reflection of my journey, my limited knowledge and my flawed self.  Yours is completely different.  But occasionally, there is a moment when you will see something of yourself in my representation of my inner world and that to me is magical.

This new painting, an 8″ by 24″ canvas, is what I see as being a very personal piece that might well reflect for others.  I call it In the Inner Place and it is included in my upcoming show, Part of the Pattern, at the Principle Gallery which opens June 3.  Without being specific, I see many things in this painting that I think speak strongly to how I want to see my world and my place in it.

An inner perception.

You might simply see it as a pleasant piece.

Or not.

Or you may see it as something reflective of your own inner world, something that speaks to who you are.  I can’t say.  We can’t control what anyone sees in a mirror.

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Egon Schiele- Death and the Maiden

Egon Schiele- Death and the Maiden

Going to the Neue Galerie the other day rekindled my fascination with the work of Austrian artist Egon Schiele.  There’s a lot of disturbing material in some of his work as well as in his bio that is hard to overlook even as I admire the work.  But Egon Schieledespite that, Schiele created, to my way of thinking, one of the most provocative and  distinct bodies of work in modern art– all before an all too early death from the Spanish Flu in 1917.

He was 28 years old.

I think of  that and then think of looking closely at the beauty and quality of his brushwork, I can only wonder what might have come in later years.  What masterpieces he might have created.  But as it is, he left us a rich and varied body of work, one that constantly both satisfies and provokes.

I particularly love his landscapes and cityscapes.  Their abstract qualities and coloring just draw me in immediately.  I always find myself inspired after looking at his work, like there’s something pushing out from it that runs into my own need for expression.

I am showing some of my favorites here:

Egon Schiele  Einzelne Häuser 1915 Egon Schiele - Krumau Town Crescent I  1915 Egon Schiele Hauswand um Fluss Egon Schiele Houses with Washed Clothes Egon Schiele -Landscape at  Krumau Egon Schiele Summer Landscape Egon Schiele Town Among the Greenery egon-schiele_agony1

 

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Andrew Wyeth- Night Sleeper 1979

Andrew Wyeth- Night Sleeper 1979

I dream a lot. I do more painting when I’m not painting. It’s in the subconscious.

Andrew Wyeth

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Andrew Wyeth- Trodden Weed

I love this short quote from the great Andrew Wyeth.  That second sentence speaks to how I view my own  relationship with what I do– I do more painting when I’m not painting.  The mind is always clicked on, seemingly always seeking that something, that one inside thing that is crying out to be expressed.

It’s a built-in thing, one that can hardly ever be turned off.  You would think it would be a maddening quality but it has become a normal way of functioning and I would probably panic if I found my mind not churning in some way.

Sometimes it is in the form of day-dreaming, just letting the imagination run free.  Other times it takes place in the words or sounds or images of others. Like pulling a new thread from an existing fabric.

Inspiration comes in many different forms and the mind is always looking for them.

Here’s a neat short film from artist/filmmaker Andrew Zuckerman that shows Wyeth describing how he sometimes find inspiration.

Andrew Wyeth from Andrew Zuckerman Studio on Vimeo.

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Harald Sohlberg-Night 1904 There’s a good possibility that you haven’t heard of  Harald Sohlberg, a Norwegian painter who lived from 1869 until 1935.  I know he was not on my radar until I stumbled across a few of his images.  In fact, there is not a lot of info about him outside of a short perfunctory bio.

This kind of stumped me but it wasn’t until I came across the short essay shown below that this made sense, giving me a lot more insight into the man behind the work.  I particularly identified with his connection with the landscape and his feelings as expressed in the final paragraph where, as an old man, he desired that people see his work not for the simple scenes they seemingly portrayed but ” for the pictorial and spiritual values on which I have been working consistently throughout the years.”

As an artist, that is your greatest hope– that people will look beyond the surface and see the emotional and spiritual content that the artist uses as a catalyst.  Take a moment and read this essay from a 1995 exhibit at the National Academy of Design in NYC that featured the work of Sohlberg and Edvard Munch.  At least take a moment to give these few Sohlberg’s paintings a good look.

In an obituary, Pola Gauguin [son of Paul Gauguin and a painter and art critic of the time] wrote that as an artist, Harald Sohlberg was alone and forgotten: “A name which was famous in its day.” Now that Sohlberg was dead, Gauguin thought, “the coldness which he helped surround it with, will thaw.” Sohlberg’s isolation was partly the tragic result of his wholehearted endorsement of the myth of genius as formulated by Romanticism and adopted by the Symbolists. Like Munch, he was obsessively preoccupied with denying that the influence of other contemporary artists had been important to him. He dissociated himself from the discussion about where he belonged in the history of art, relegating the origins of his artistic awakening outside of art to his own psyche.

Sohlberg wrote that his form sprang forth subconsciously from his first awareness of the landscape. The difference in texture of the sky and earth gave him a sense of standing on a heavy and firm planet gazing out into boundless space. He attributed the simple forms and great lines of his pictures to this first awareness of the landscape. The point of departure was the personal experience. Thus, the artist’s experience of his subject preceded the picture. Sohlberg was preoccupied with the concrete local landscape that surrounded him and his emotional reaction to it. The place, in itself, was charged with meaning. For this reason, where he sought his subjects was important. He experienced the landscape in Norway as nature in strong and intense moods and gave form to the echoes of these moods in his mind. He agreed with many of his generation who, taking their point of departure in Andreas Aubert’s writings about Norwegian art, were of the opinion that there existed distinctive, Nordic colors, clear and strong colors created by the clear, intense light of the North. Once artists realized this, it would be possible for an independent Nordic art to develop. Sohlberg believed that, along with the unique construction of the Nordic landscape, local color ought to result in a style of its own. Experience and interpretation of nature determined the choice of colors. For Sohlberg, the main color should assemble the picture and be as strong as possible.

The function of line in painting according to him was to express feelings. It could be lonely, down to earth, or melancholy. It could be willful and persevering as required. It should be developed according to the nature of the subject and the artist’s dialogue with nature. Because the picture was bound by a perceived reality, Sohlberg paid tribute to reality by portraying it naturalistically. But his gaze carried with it the legacy of picture formulas that transformed and adapted nature. He was an artist who rarely put a stroke on the canvas before the picture was clear to him in his imagination. As an artist, he was a substitute viewer. What interested him was his own experience and interpretation, regardless of how naturalistic his pictures appeared to be. Ideally everything in the picture was controlled by his will.

As an older man, Sohlberg longed for confirmation that the public saw the values he wished to impart: “it is probably true that for simple and naive reasons my works have aroused sympathy. But I maintain that they have by no means been properly understood for the pictorial and spiritual values on which I have been working consistently throughout the years.” The quotation contains three words which are keys to an understanding of Sohlberg: “Pictorial,” “spiritual,” and “consistently.” The pictorial is means for expressing the spiritual, and one was obliged to stick to the spiritual values one held true. 

– From Ivind Storm Bjerke, Edvard Munch, Harald Sohlberg: Landscapes of the Mind

Harald Sohlberg-A Street in Oslo 1911Harald Sohlberg-Night in the Mountains 1914Harald Sohlberg- After The Snowstorm Harald Sohlberg-Storgaten_Røros_1904

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"La Vigne Rouge"- The Only Painting Sold in Van Gogh's Lifetime

“La Vigne Rouge”- The Only Painting Sold in Van Gogh’s Lifetime

I came across an interesting little film, Painting in the Dark:The Struggle For Art in a World Obsessed With Popularity, from video essayist Adam Westbrook that speaks about the life and struggles of Vincent Van Gogh.

While already a well documented tale, one with which many of us are very well acquainted, Westbrook uses Van Gogh’s life in a way that makes us question whether we would have the same sort of inner urge to continue creating without the encouragement of others.  Van Gogh, after all, basically painted for an audience of only himself and his brother throughout his entire creative life yet painted incessantly, producing work at a prodigious pace.

Autotelic DefinitionHe also introduces us to the word autotelic, taken from the book, Flow, from famed psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  The word refers to a self contained activity, one that is not done with the expectation of future benefit, but simply because the doing itself is the reward.  In short, it’s what you do when you are your only audience, when you are the only one who can judge the work.

I think of my current Icon series in that way, even though I have been sharing the work here.  It is done solely for my own pleasure and satisfaction, without a thought of trying to please someone else with it.  It’s just something I have to do and what will become of it is of no concern to me at this point.

There’s something very liberating in that but whether I could sustain this passion for it through a decade of hardship is a difficult question, one that I hope to never have to face.

This film is a little over 10 minutes in length and very well done so if you have the time, take a look.  If you like the work of  Adam Westbrook check out his site which contains his video essays, delve.  Or his regular website. Or if you would like to lend financial support, you can visit his page on Patreon.

 

The Long Game Part 3: Painting in the Dark from Delve on Vimeo.

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GC Myers-  Icon: FrancoisMy current Icon series has been a real pleasure for myself in that it’s refreshing to work on pieces that I realize are only for myself, not worrying if they strike a chord with anyone else.  For me, it’s fulfilling to flesh out some of my ancestors and their stories, to give them an image that I an hold on to.  As I’ve said these are meant as symbols– I’m not trying to recreate their actual appearance.  In most cases, there is nothing to work with, nothing that would give me a clue as to how they might really look.  So, this is how I see them in my mind.

The painting at the top is a 12″ by 12″ canvas that is titled Icon: François.  He is my 9th gr-grandfather, born in 1640 in the area around Boulogne, France.  It is on the English Channel not to far from Calais.  He was a soldier in the Grandfontaine Company of the Carignan Regiment,  which was sent in 1665 to Quebec in what was then called New France.  The troops came in several ships, François arriving in August aboard the ship L’Aigle d’Or— the Golden Eagle.

These 1200 troops were sent to protect the new settlements  that France had established and to aide in fort construction along the Richelieu River.  They were also sent in order to help populate New France.  Some were offered money or land to stay in the new country and build a life there.  François, I believe, fell into that category as he showed up soon after in census listings as a master woodworker living in Quebec.  While I am not positive that he received any

incentives to stay in New France, such is not the case with his wife and my 9th gr-grandmother, Marguerite Paquet,  She was one of the Filles du Roi, or the King’s Daughters.  Between 1663 and 1673, King Louis XIV sponsored this program which offered young French women, all single and many orphaned,  free transportation and settlement to New France along with a dowry of money or land in the new land if they agreed to marry one of the men living there.  You see, the first settlers were overwhelmingly male.  I have at least two or three Filles du Roi in my line as do most French Canadians.

François died as relatively young man in 1675 but not before he and Marguerite had three children which set off a long line that runs through Canadian history to today, spawning hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of decendents.

I see François is this painting as an Adam-like character, naked and in a new world that he will help populate,  The brushstrokes radiating from the halo represent the generations that descend from the choice he and his wife made to seek a new life in the new world.  It’s a simple painting and a relatively simple story– at least as simple as you can make one’s entire life into a short tale.

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