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I have a large painting on the easel I want to get to this morning. It’s at a point of transformation which is always exciting and just looking at it now, I am eager to see where it goes. But I wanted to share a post from back in 2012 about a painting done in 1997 or 1998 that has occupied an important place in my heart and mind for a long time. I think it’s a good example of the how an artist’s work often lives with the artist after it has found a new home.

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I was going to write about something different but came across this older image and completely lost my train of thought, this piece replacing everything that I had been thinking. Some pieces have that effect. It’s a smaller painting, maybe 6″ square, that sold many years ago when I was first showing my work at the Principle Gallery in the mid-1990’s. Though not large, this painting has lived in a larger sense in my thoughts ever since.

It’s titled Beauty Scorned and is a relatively simple piece. But there’s something in the washed out quality of the colors and in the the bend of the twisting tree trunk that really speaks to me in a very poignant way, as though it is a pure physical expression of some deep emotion.

Beauty and sorrow.

For me, I see this as being about perceptions of beauty and acceptance. About how we often conform, like the other trees which are so much alike here, and step back from that which is different, seeing not the beauty in it but scorning it because it is unlike us.

The beauty is in its difference.

I remember when I did this piece, feeling that this was symbolic of my own work at that time. It was often quite different from the work of other painters with which I showed and I was still unsure of the validity of my own voice, often feeling that my work was somehow inferior because it wasn’t painted in the same manner, didn’t have the same look as these others. At the time, I felt like my work and my voice was truly tied to this twisting tree and those who dismissed it because it had a different look were missing the beauty and emotion that it may hold.

Just seeing it again summons all of these thoughts in a rush of feeling. It remains a potent piece for me for this reason. It also has a sad memory in it.  When I see this piece I am always reminded of the couple who purchased it and were avid and encouraging collectors that I always looked forward to seeing at shows. They had a knack for choosing work to which I was most keenly attached. This couple later divorced and the wife would still come to the shows, always so happy for and encouraging of my work. Tragically, she passed away in a plane crash this past year [2012] and now, instead of seeing the scorning of beauty in this piece as I once did, I now see the beauty of this young lady’s spirit.

It’s a different painting for me now but no less potent.

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Beauty is the only thing that time cannot harm. Philosophies fall away like sand, creeds follow one another, but what is beautiful is a joy for all seasons, a possession for all eternity.

Oscar Wilde

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This is another new painting, a 24″ by 24″ canvas, slated to be part of my show, Redtree 20: New Growth, at the Principle Gallery, opening June 7.

I call this painting Meet Me in the Garden (At the End of the World). I know that sounds like an ominous title but I loved the way it came off the tongue with a rhythm that feels like it comes from a song. It works for me and I believe it aligns well with the painting and with the words above from Oscar Wilde.

Even though there might be nothing left to us but desolation and wilderness, even though our time here might seem at an end, beauty remains a constant.

It is a reminder of all that is meaningful in this world after everything else is stripped away.

It is our bond with both our humanity and whatever spiritual presence that might exist in the universe. To feel it, to be moved by beauty, is to be in communion with both.

Those who do not recognize or feel beauty, or deny beauty, live only partial lives, like half-filled glasses. I pity those people. They are missing the best part of this life.

Pontificating about something as subjective as beauty might be a lot to put out there before 7 AM and later in the day I may want to change these words in some way. But I believe, for the most part, that the greatest gift we receive as humans is to be emotionally moved by the beauty we witness in the world around us as well in the arts and literature we produce.

This painting reminds me that my time here is limited and being so, what better way should it end than when I am surrounded by the beautiful colors in a garden of flowers?

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“This is the most immediate fruit of exile, of uprooting: the prevalence of the unreal over the real. Everyone dreamed past and future dreams, of slavery and redemption, of improbable paradises, of equally mythical and improbable enemies; cosmic enemies, perverse and subtle, who pervade everything like the air.”

Primo Levi, If This Is a Man / The Truce

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This small painting has been propped up on a bookshelf, unframed, here in the studio for over a decade. I have walked by it thousands of times, to the point that I barely even recognize that it is there. It was from the Outlaws series in 2008 and was one of the pieces that didn’t make it out of the studio. I just didn’t feel as strongly about it as the others in the series at the time, didn’t feel it carried the same emotional messaging.

But the other day I took it from the shelf and spent some time really looking at it and , all these years later, see much more in it now. It has its own story that I didn’t perceive before, maybe because it seems more like the characters from my Exiles series from 1995 than the Outlaws series of 2008. The Exiles were paintings that focused on loss and grief, of a looking back in time at what has been lost. The Outlaws, on the other hand, were about fear and vulnerability, the characters haunted by unseen pursuers.

The character in this painting seems like a hybrid of the two series, a person who has suffered loss and grief and is haunted by all that they have seen.

I originally saw this character as a male figure but looking at it now, I see it as being more female, one with close cropped dark hair, like it has been roughly shorn. I began seeing this as a survivor of atrocity, perhaps of a concentration camp. Someone who has seen horror and can never quite get far away from that memory.

The past for this person is like a ball that is thrown in the air, seemingly moving quickly away only to always coming rushing back down upon them.

The window here represents the past and the figure seems destined to always peer out at it.

It’s funny how the perception of a piece that I have basically ignored for a decade can change with one closer inspection. What seemed like a lesser piece at one point now seems much more powerful, more laden with meaning and emotion.

I think that when I painted this piece I was aiming for something other than what emerged and, as a result, I always viewed it from the perspective of my preconception. Now I am just viewing it as it is.

And my judgement of it is much different. I will never look at it with that indifference that existed for the past ten years. It now has meaning for me. I’ve even gave it a title: Window to the Past.

Glad I took the time to look again.

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Life is too short to be little. Man is never so manly as when he feels deeply, acts boldly, and expresses himself with frankness and with fervor.

Benjamin Disraeli

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I gave a talk last week with a local arts group, the Elmira Regional Art Society. There was also a  painting demonstration where I first laid out a composition in red oxide then laid in a few preliminary layers of color on an 18″ by 36″ canvas. The thought was just to give an idea of how the process progresses in a condensed timeframe. As a result, I painted very fast, much quicker than I normally do.

But the demo turned went well and I was fairly pleased with the end result, shown here. Quite honestly, going in I had planned on painting over the demo image and reusing the canvas. But this had good rhythm and the first layers of colors pointed me in a good direction, one that made feel I should keep working on this piece.

So, over the weekend I went at it.

I spent some time looking at the piece and didn’t feel too good about the way the central mound rose out of the field rows. It had the effect of stopping my eye so I went back in and extended it to the bottom of the canvas. This also had the effect of giving the field with the rows more dimension and depth into the picture plane, which is something I am often looking for in these pieces. There is a side by side at the bottom which shows the change in the composition as well as how the colors evolved.

Along with brightening parts of sky, finding a harmony in the colors was the biggest part of the remaining work on this painting. Some forms took on  new color and some were deepened and highlighted.

The final move came in placing the Red Tree which focused the whole piece. It has the feel of a flame for me, with the sky behind it reflecting its light. I call this painting Fire on the Mountain.

I am pleased how this piece emerged, given how it began and the fact that there were no expectations for it. Sometimes that happens.  Thanks for everybody from ERAS who attended the talk. With your questions, comments and good humor, you all had a part in making this piece work.

 

 

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While doing a short talk and demonstration for a local arts group last week I mentioned my early work and the fact that it was mainly watercolor based. This surprised some of those in attendance who were not familiar with my early work. I tried to describe my process but thought this blog from several years back might help, at least with the images. Not so much with the words. I still don’t describe this work well. I’ve added a few images from that time.

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GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork6I have been spending a lot of time here in the studio in the last few weeks painting in a more traditional manner, what I call an additive style meaning that layers of paint are continually added , normally building from dark to light. I’ve painted this way for many years but much of my work is painted in a much different manner where a lot of very wet paint is applied to a flat surface. I then take off much of this paint, revealing the lightness of the underlying surface. That’s a very simplified version of the process, one that has evolved and refined over the years, that I, of course, refer to as being reductive.

When you’re self-taught, you can call things whatever you please. I’m thinking of calling my brushes hairsticks from now on. Or maybe twizzlers.

This reductive process is what continually prodded me ahead early on when I was just learning to express myself visually. I went back recently and came across a very early group of these pieces, among the very first where I employed this process. I am still attracted to these pieces, partly because of the nostalgia of seeing those things once again that opened other doors for me. But there was also a unity and continuity in the work that I found very appealing. Each piece, while not very refined or tremendously strong alone, strengthened the group as a whole. I would have been hesitant to show most of these alone but together they feel so much more complete and unified.

This has made me look at these pieces in a different light, one where I found new respect for them. I think they are really symbolic of some of  what I consider strengths in my work, this sense of continuum and relativity from piece to piece. It also brings me back to that early path and makes me consider if I should backtrack and walk that path again, now armed with twenty years of experience. Something to consider.

GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 1 GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 3 GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 5 GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 2 GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 4

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There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.

-Anais Nin

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I see in the new painting above, Illumination, a moment when all the fragments of that mosaic, as mentioned in the words of Anais Nin, come together. That moment when we are no longer seeing only individuals pieces of the mosaic, those bits and pieces of acquired information and observations we gather over a lifetime. That moment when we suddenly see those gathered bits as a complete image of a greater truth in all its wholeness.

That moment which reveals the why of the universe after a lifetime of showing us only the whats.

Does such a moment ever come to us, do we ever receive true illumination?

I certainly don’t have that answer.

I am still in the process of gathering bits of the mosaic as I see it. Some days, the various pieces I’ve put together seem to show a glimpse of a pattern of the image of a greater whole. Those are inspiring and hopeful days.

But often, I can’t find that same pattern on the next day. Those days have less hope and have me questioning whether all these mosaic pieces ever come together to create a fuller image. Is there a purpose to this all?

Again, I can’t say. But I’ve got too many mosaic pieces before me now to not want to keep moving forward. Too many to not keep trying to assemble them in the hopes of receiving some sort of illumination that gives me the peace that comes with understanding.

And that may be the purpose of art– gathered bits of a mosaic that allows us to see a greater whole and gain some vestige of understanding.

Hmmm. Sounds good right now. Ask me in 15 minutes and I may see it in a different light. But for this moment, I feel hopeful in simply looking at this painting.

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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 was going to share another of the Multitudes pieces that will be included in this year’s June exhibit at the Principle Gallery. But I saw that I have been a little heavy on my sharing of that work as of late and was a little concerned that people might think that was the sole focus of this show.

The title of this show, Redtree 20: New Growth, refers to the fact that this is my 20th solo show at the gallery. My first exhibit in 2000, Redtree, basically marked the beginning of the Red Tree that has become the trademark element of much of my work through the years. Though many elements have entered my visual vocabulary, the Red Tree is a constant and feels new to me each time I paint it.

Now the painting I am showing today, Night Nirvana, a 30″ by 40″ canvas, is what I would call a Red Roof painting, not a Red Tree piece. But it very much reflects the evolution and change taking place in the work over the years.

The process is always changing in some way. Some colors move forward and others recede. New elements are added and some fade away. Even something as basic as the way the surfaces are prepared has gone through changes.

I think that the fact that there is this constant evolution is the reason that my friends at the Principle Gallery are still inviting me to do this show after all these years.

But one thing that hasn’t changed in those 20+ years is the underlying purpose that I hope to find in the work– a place of inner peace and freedom from a world that seems chaotic and in turmoil all too often.

A Nirvana, if you will.

I think the words of Joseph Campbell above, from The Power of Myth, sum up very well what I hope to find in my work. And that aligns very well with what I feel in this new piece which is a sense of a found tranquility that finds a peaceful order amidst the chaos.

It is the realization of self, freed from the expectations and limitations of others.

Well, it is hopeful. And that keeps me want to keep moving forward.

And that is enough.

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Redtree 20: New Growth opens June 7, 2019 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA.

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