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Archive for the ‘Motivation’ Category

Vincent Van Gogh- Memory of the Garden at Etten 1888

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My aim in life is to make pictures and drawings, as many and as well as I can; then, at the end of my life… looking back with love and tender regret, and thinking, ‘Oh, the pictures I might have made!’ But this does not exclude making what is possible…

–Vincent Van Gogh

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Love this painting from Vincent Van Gogh with its wonderful color and the abstraction of the forms that comes from eliminating the horizon line. It was a piece that came to mind when I ran across this passage from Van Gogh. The words reminded me of something else, a thought that has been on my mind in recent times.

I was asked at my Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery this past September if I ever had thoughts of retiring from my painting career. I think I made a bit of a joke about it, saying that I would no doubt die working away at a painting.

And that’s most likely true. I couldn’t imagine ever saying I am done as a painter.

It goes back to Van Gogh’s words above. I still see my artistic future brighter than my past, still envision important projects and better works to come. I still see my best work as being in the future, not dwelling in the distant past.

I can’t imagine that feeling ever changing. I can see myself on the day of my death, if I am capable of taking a moment to reflect on that day, will have that same regret that Van Gogh expressed: Oh, the pictures I might have made!

That being said, I must get to work. I am not retired yet and there are pictures to be made. The future is calling.

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GC Myers- Listening to the Muse

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I thought I would rerun the blog entry below that first ran in January of 2015. It might be the only piece of advice I truly feel comfortable in giving to aspiring artists in any discipline. Plus, it can be applied to everyone in their lives even if they aren’t engaged in creative endeavors because, at its base, it’s not just about making things, as much as it might seem at first glance. It’s about an attitude of being proactive in altering the world around us in what we see as being a positive manner. It’s about seeing something that doesn’t fully satisfy you and taking action to change that.

Moreover, at its root, it is about determining the person we want to be and moving consciously towards that goal.

Take a look and decide for yourself:

 

I spent quite a bit of time this morning looking at the image of the painting above, Listening to the Muse. It’s part of my show at the Kada Gallery [That show opened in December of 2014] which is in it’s last weekend there. This painting really captivates me on a personal level and reminds me of  a thought that once drove me forward as a younger painter. It’s a thought that I often pass along as a bit of advice to aspiring artists:

Paint the paintings you want to see.

Sounds too simple to be of any help, doesn’t it? But that simplicity is the beauty and strength of it.

For me, I wasn’t seeing the paintings out there that satisfied an inner desire I had to see certain deep colors that were being used in a manner that was both abstract and representative. If I had seen something that fulfilled these desires, I most likely would not have went ahead as a painter. I wouldn’t have felt the need to keep pushing.

It was this simple thought that marked the change in my evolution as a painter. Before it, I was still trying to paint the paintings that I was seeing in the outer world, attempting to emulate those pieces and styles that already existed as created by other artists. But it was unsatisfying, still echoing the work of others, forever judged in comparison to these others.

But after the realization that I should simply paint what I wanted to see, my work changed and I went from a bondage to that which existed to the freedom of what could be found in creating something new. For me, that meant finding certain colors such as the deep reds and oranges tinged with dark edges that mark this piece. It meant trying to simplify the forms of world I was portraying so that the colors and shapes collectively took on the same meditative quality that I was seeing in each of them.

In my case this seems to be the advice I needed. But I think it’s advice that works for nearly anything you might attempt.

Paint the paintings you want to see.

Write the book you want to read. [Toni Morrison said this very thing at one point]

Play the music you want to hear. Make the film you want to see. Cook the food you want to eat. Make the clothes you want to wear.

Make the world in which you want to live.

Simple.

Now go do it.

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All Is Quiet

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All is quiet on New Year’s Day
A world in white gets underway
I want to be with you
Be with you, night and day
Nothing changes on New Year’s Day
On New Year’s Day

U2, New Year’s Day

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Found myself beginning the new year this morning walking to the studio through the woods in the dark before 6 AM.

Like the song says: Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.

I always think of this song on New Year’s morning because there is always a preternatural quiet on these mornings.

Today was no different.

It’s an absolute stillness free of all noise. Even the deer whose eyes glow green in the light of my headlamp as I scan the forest, make no sound. They are motionless and when they finally move there is no snort of alarm, no crunch of leaves, no breaking of branches.

Just a stealthy movement of shadows against an empty void of blackness. It makes me stop for a moment just to listen, trying to absorb as much of that quietude as I can with the hope that I can recall this glorious absence of sound when I need it at some point later.

It makes me think of the old Elvis song If Every Day Was Like Christmas with its lyrics that ask: why can’t every day be like Christmas? I think a more appropriate question would be why can’t every day be like New Year’s Day?

The pressure of the holidays is past. No concerns about gift giving. It’s a fresh start, with the old and worn last year fading into the grainy grayness of the past and the new year stepping in, all shiny bright and full of potential. Even the most pessimistic and jaded of us most likely feels at least small glimmers of hope on this day.

And why not? It’s a clean slate, a tabula rasa, on which anything can written. It is a time, a moment, that assures us that there are no limits on what we can do in the coming year and the coming decade.

Of course, the pragmatic part of me knows that it is just as the song says: Nothing changes on New Year’s Day. 

But this morning, at least for a while, I will try to hang on to the belief that there is change coming in this shiny new year. For the better, I hope.

Here’s the song New Year’s Day from U2 from way back in 1983. Time flies so enjoy this quiet morning.

Happy New Year.

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Put this one in the Even the great ones screw up every once in a while file.

This is a painting from Norman Rockwell titled People Reading Stock Exchange, a piece done in 1930 for one of his many Saturday Evening Post covers. There appears to be nothing unique about it at first glance, just a group of folks hunched around a wall chart that they all  find completely absorbing. They all seem perfectly normal until you take a closer look and notice that the young man in the red shirt seems different. You look a bit closer, maybe squint a little until you realize you don’t need to do that to see his abnormality.

Yes, he has three legs.

This strange young fellow apparently went unnoticed for a while and Rockwell himself didn’t recognize it until it was pointed out years later. It proved to be a embarrassing episode for him, especially given his reputation for capturing detail and realism in his work.

Some people have tried to explain it away as some sort of subconscious phallic representation which seems like a stretch to me. I think it was merely an oversight although an unusual one. As a casual viewer, it it something that is easy to overlook but I am more surprised that in the process of adding the finishing touches that it simply didn’t register for him that he was creating a most unusual young man.

As an artist, it’s reassuring, even comforting, to see someone so meticulous in his process make such an error.

Most artists have at least a handful of such things in their background, pieces with shadows that make no sense in nature or arms or necks that are much too long for any living human. Most go unnoticed. The unfortunate thing is that once they are identified, they become the focal point of that painting forever– something once seen that cannot be unseen.

I know that I have several paintings with mistakes, with departures from the laws of physics and other realities. These are pieces that, without these flaws being pointed out, are strong and full works. Few people, if any, notice these flaws but for me they are sometimes the first things my eyes rest upon in the picture. But they don’t bother me as I imagine this bothered Rockwell.

I see them as symbols of our humanity, our inherent flawed nature. We don’t need to point out our flaws. They’re there for all to see. We can only hope people accept us, three legs or two or one.

And the three-legged young man here is a refreshing reminder of Rockwell’s humanity.

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This post originally ran here back in 2013. It has proven to be one of the more popular posts through the years, often getting hundreds and sometimes thousands of views in a day. It is a favorite of mine, as well, simply for the reminder that we are imperfect beings. I certainly make no pretense of perfection in my own work. In fact, flaws are an inherent part of what I do. My signature, if you will.

Must be I subscribe to the words of Fred Astaire:

The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it’s considered to be your style.”

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With about a foot of snow already on the ground and more falling as I write, I spent my first few hours this morning shoveling and plowing but still felt that I should post something. I am running one of my favorite posts, one that I run every few years. 

GC Myers- Heliotrope sm***************************

“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.”

-John Quincy Adams

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I don’t what made this pop into my head but I was thinking about a conversation from a few years back that I had with a friend who is also a painter. He has been a working artist for almost his entire adult life, fairly successful for much of that time. We both agree that we are extremely fortunate to have found the careers that we have, one that feels like a destination rather than a passageway to some other calling.

For me, I knew this was the career for me when I realized I no longer looked at the job listings in the classified section of the paper. For most of my life, I felt there was something else out there that would satisfy me but I didn’t know what it was or how to find it. Maybe it was as simple as finding the right job. Or so I thought.

When you don’t know where you’re going, any direction feels like it might be the right direction.

But during this particular conversation this friend asked, “What would you do if you suddenly couldn’t paint? What if you were suddenly blind?”

For him, it was unthinkable. His life of creation was totally visual, based on expressing every emotion in paint.

I thought about it for a second and said simply, “I’d do something else. I’d find a way.”

In that split-second I realized that while I loved painting and relished the idea that I could communicate completely in paint, painting was a mere device for self-expression. But it was not the only way to go. I knew then as I know now that the deprivation of something that has come to mean so much to me would, in itself, create a new need for expression that would somehow be satisfied. I have always marveled at the people who, when paralyzed or have lost use of their arms, paint with their toes or their mouth . Their drive to communicate overcame their obstacles. Mine would as well.

If blinded, I could or do something with words, using them to create color and texture. Perhaps not at the same level as my painting but it might grow into something different given the circumstance. The need to communicate whatever I needed to communicate would create a pathway.

It was an epiphany in that moment. Just knowing that I had found painting gave me the belief that I could and would find a new form of expression if needed.

I did it once and I could do it again. And I found that greatly comforting.

Yes, I’d find a way…

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The only quality that endures in art is a personal vision of the world. Methods are transient: personality is enduring.

–Edward Hopper

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Felt like a little Edward Hopper this morning and realized that, in all the years of doing this blog, I had never shown his most famous painting, Nighthawks, above. Can’t say why I had failed to display it. Maybe it just felt so obvious that it overshadowed other works from his career that also moved me. Regardless, it remains a defining painting, one that never fails to be striking.

His words just below the painting above are equally striking for me.

I often write about artists trying to find their voice. By that, I am talking about painting (or working in any other medium) in a manner that matches up with and captures the artist’s point of view, their thought process, and the many facets of their personality. Not every method or style jibes with every artist, allowing them full expression of the truth of their own personality.

And method alone only goes so far. Method is transient and without endurance, as Hopper points out, without personality.

How does this happen, this insertion of personality into one’s work?

I can’t really say. I guess it starts with having a point of view, an opinion, an emotion, a thought. I tell high school and college students that technique is important but it is even more vital to have a base of other knowledge to draw from. Art is not technique or method, it is expression of the self so have a fully realized self to express.

Don’t know if that’s right for everybody but, hey, it feels right for me.

Work on that and get back to me, okay?

 

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Robert Henri- Irish Girl (Mary O’Donnel) -1913

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Because we are saturated with life, because we are human, our strongest motive is life, humanity; and the stronger the motive back of the line the stronger, and therefore more beautiful, the line will be.

–Robert Henri (1865-1929)

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I came across this quote from the highly influential painter/ teacher Robert Henri and it made me think of two separate incidents that influenced my work.

The first comes from the quote itself, about how a strong belief in humanity and life should manifest itself in one’s art, creating a stronger and bolder and more beautiful line. It brings to mind the only art training I ever received, a night course, Drawing 101, from a local community college. I was taking it because at the time I had an interest in pursuing architecture and needed a portfolio. All the drawing I had done up to that time was just, more or less, doodling on bits of paper, in journals, or in the margins of magazines and newspapers. I thought a course on drawing would get me to some work that might help in putting together a portfolio.

The course ended up being a travesty. The instructor had little interest in being there and gave only cursory instruction. He kept an eye fixed on the clock and often ended the sessions early so that he could get to the local pub a bit quicker. I didn’t get much out of the course and dropped my quest to go into architecture but I did get one bit of advice that I carried with me.

The instructor pointed out that he preferred strong, bold lines even if they were not completely accurate or correct in the context of the drawing. They exuded confidence and that was more important that accuracy, especially if the lines were weak and tentative. That really struck a chord with me and stuck with me through the years until I began painting.

I think his words line up well with Henri’s assertion above. That confidence the instructor referred to is much the same as Henri’s saturation with life and humanity.

The other incident that I was reminded of upon stumbling across Henri’s words is my encounter with the painting at the top of the page. It is titled Irish Girl ( Mary O’Donnel) and was painted by Henri in 1913 and is at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. When I first saw it, I was showing my work at several galleries and was about a year away from my first big solo show at the Principle Gallery.

I encountered this painting in a large gallery in the museum and was struck how people would immediately head to this painting, even though it was one of the smaller pieces in the large space. I couldn’t figure out why this was. I mean, it was a strong painting but the way people were attracted to it seemed out of line with what I was seeing. Looking at it dispassionately, I finally settled on the color of her sweater as being the reason. It was deep crimson that really popped off the wall.

It made me examine my own palette of colors. My colors at the time were more earth toned and red was certainly not a large part of it. When it did come into play, it was usually more subdued and washed out. Pale. To tell the truth, I was a bit afraid of it as a color. When I tried it in a bolder way, it often skewed to harsher, sharper tones that were not to my liking and usually didn’t align with the emotional context of the painting.

But seeing Henri’s use of it made me better appreciate the power of the color. I began to work with it more and soon was incorporating in my work on a regular basis. It became a vital part of my visual vocabulary. It showed itself in a big way with my first show at the Principle Gallery which was titled Red Tree. It has stuck with me and I have Henri’s Irish Girl to thank.

It’s interesting how sometimes failed attempts, like my college course, or confounding encounters, such as mine with Henri’s painting, have impacts on you that you could never foresee. You never truly know what will come from anything we stumble across. Inspiration comes in many forms.

Have a good Saturday.

 

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