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For the mystic what is how. For the craftsman how is what. For the artist what and how are one.

–William McElcheran, Canadian Sculptor 1927-1999

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This morning I came across the quote above from the great Canadian sculptor William McElcheran that I featured here a few years back. Its wordplay and meaning both still ring a bell for me, even though I am not sure of McElcheran’s definitions of what and how. I have searched several times trying to find the origin of this quote to see the context in which it was first said but it seems to simply stand alone.

And I guess that’s okay because it says a lot and is complete in its meaning, at least in the way I perceive it.

I guess I fall in the artist category here. I am definitely searching for the what in my work regardless of the how that is required to get there. I will gladly alter my how to get to the what. My how is not based on tradition, is not absolute in any way and changes as needed. Yet, it is still crucial that it remains my how because if I feel that if I defer to another how exclusively it ceases to be my how and fails to express my individual voice.

It is when the how and the what merge that I feel most satisfied in my work.

Now, if you can follow that– and I am not really sure that I can myself– you must obviously fall into the mystic category.

I used the painting at the top, Spirit of Silence, which is part of my current Principle Gallery show, because it feels to me like it falls in that area where the how and what come together. It is a simply built painting where the how of it seems to roll perfectly into the what that it conveys. I immediately thought of this piece when I read the words at the top earlier.

 

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i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

 
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?


(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened) 

 e e cummings 

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I struggled coming up with a title for this painting. It is a piece that really resonates with me and I wanted to have a title for it that captured what I was seeing in it. At first, I wanted the title to point out what I perceived to be the richness of the land and its colors. At first, I called it The New Cornucopia but it just didn’t sit right. There was more to what I was seeing in the painting than that particular title captured.

I went seeking for something that better expressed what I saw in it and came across a poem that I had read long ago from the late poet e e cummings. Shown above, i thank you God for most this amazing is more prayer of thanks than poem with an emphasis on seeing the yes in all things surrounding us. It has a lovely transcendental feel to it that, for me, jibed with what I was seeing in this painting.

This poem was originally included in cummings’ 1950 collection of poems, Xaipe.  That title intrigued me. It wasn’t anything I had seen before and I wanted to know how it might connect to the poem above. I found that it is a Greek word, pronounced zape, and translates as rejoice or be happy.

That was perfect for what I was sensing in this painting- the joy in just being alive and recognizing, with the opened eyes of my eyes, the wonder of the natural world around us. The yes of everything.

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“Touch your inner space, which is nothingness, as silent and empty as the sky; it is your inner sky. Once you settle down in your inner sky, you have come home, and a great maturity arises in your actions, in your behavior. Then whatever you do has grace in it. Then whatever you do is a poetry in itself. You live poetry; your walking becomes dancing, your silence becomes music.”

~Osho

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Lux Vitae- GC Myers

Tomorrow, Friday, June 1, is the opening for my show of new work at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. Haven is my 19th show with the wonderful folks at the Principle, a mark that still boggles my mind. When I first began painting after being injured in the fall from the ladder at the house we were building back in 1993, I had no idea it would ever amount to anything.

In fact, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t. There was nothing in my past that pointed to any future level of success as an artist.

I just wanted something to call my own.

So from being invited to show my work with the Principle Gallery and onto my first solo show there in 2000– which was called, surprise,surprise, Red Tree— I have felt like I was playing with house money, that anything beyond this was gravy. Sorry for mixing metaphors there.

But in my mind, with that first show, I had already exceeded my expectations. Plus, beyond that, I had achieved my primary goal of creating something that I could call my own, something that would be validated internally by myself and externally by others.

So, each show is a reminder of how fortunate I have been in the past two decades. And knowing that I have been the beneficiary of such good fortune drives me to work a bit harder, to dig a little deeper for every subsequent show. I still believe that I have much to prove and room to grow with my work, as an artist and a person.

These years have given me no sense of entitlement. In fact, I think I feel less entitlement than I did in my earlier years in this field.  I didn’t know any better then. Now, I understand that as an artist you are on a constant  proving ground which requires real commitment and self-belief in order to stay relevant.

These were some of the thoughts that drove me while working for this show and I think it shows in the paintings. I am personally pleased and excited with this show, mainly because I know that I have done what I hoped to do with this show. It feels like an honest and real expression.

But, hey, that’s just my opinion. You can judge it for yourself. Or not. But if you do want to take a look, Below is a nice short video ( it’s only a minute and a half!) I threw together with some of the pieces from the show.

The painting at the top is Lux Vitae, a 30″ by 40″ canvas that I think is really symbolic of this show.

Hope you’ll come out and see it tomorrow.

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There are a few paintings in my show, Haven, which opens on Friday at the Principle Gallery, that feature intertwined trees. One such piece, a 24″ by 30″ canvas titled Nuptiae, is shown above.

It’s a motif that I have used a number of times over many years. I have always liked the manner in which climbing vines embrace embrace their host trees. There’s often a sensuous physicality in the curves and bends of their united trunks that makes it easy to see them in human terms. This human equivalency is something I have tried to pull out of my landscapes. Early on, this was the simple basis for the handful of intertwined trees paintings I created.

But I received a request for a commission that changed the meaning of these paintings for me. A couple was about to celebrate their tenth anniversary and wanted a painting to mark the occasion. They shared an affinity for the Greek myth of Baucis and Philemon and wanted the painting to reflect the tale’s tone and moral.

Nuptiae, at the top, is my most recent interpretation of the story. It’s a painting that was nothing but a pleasure to paint, one of those pieces that fall off the brush almost on their own and every move made feels right. Even so, the final result exceeded what I saw for it when I first envisioned it.

Below is what I wrote back in 2010. It’s a simple retelling of the myth as I know it.

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I often get requests for commissioned work but usually am not excited by the prospect of being dictated to in the creation of my work, actually turning down many that get too specific in their requirements. I want my paintings to reflect my thought process and emotion as well as my craft. As a result, I have an informal set of rules that let me have free rein in the creation of the work so that the painting is allowed to form in an organic way. Not forced, which often takes away the vitality of many pieces, in my opinion. 

But this particular request is unlike many others that I receive. They want this piece to relate the story of the classic myth of Baucis and Philemon, which is the tale of a poor but happy couple who are unknowingly visited by Zeus and Hermes disguised as dusty travelers. Beggars, actually. 

Coming into their village earlier, the two gods had went door to door among their neighbors seeking hospitality and were rebuffed in every attempt, often with harsh words. Zeus became angry as door after door was slammed in his face. Finally, they came to the door of the shack of Baucis and Philemon, by far the poorest looking home in the village. 

Upon knocking, they were greeted warmly by an elderly couple who welcomed them in to their impoverished but clean home and treated them with what little they had in the way of food and drink. They were gracious and hospitable, seeking to give comfort to the strangers. As the night wore on, the couple, who had been serving their simple wine to the travelers from a pitcher, noticed that the pitcher stayed full even after many pours. They began to suspect that these were not mere beggars but were, in fact, gods. 

They apologized to the gods for not having much to put before them then offered to catch their prized goose, which was really a pet, and cook it for them. The old couple chased the goose around the shack until finally the frightened creature found sanctuary on the laps of the gods. Stroking the now safe goose, Zeus then informed them of their identities and, after complimenting them on their hospitality and speaking of the mean-spiritedness of their neighbors, instructed the couple to follow them.

They climbed upon a rise where Zeus told them to stop and look back. Where once their town had stood was nothing but water from a deluge that had washed away everything including all the townsfolk who had insulted Zeus. From where their poor home had been, a majestic golden-roofed temple with sparkling marble pillars rose from the receding waters. 

Zeus told the couple that this would be their new home and asked what wish he could grant them. They asked that they be made priests, guardians of this temple and that they should always remain together until the ends of their lives. Seeing their obvious love for each other, Zeus readily agreed. The couple lived for many more years together, reaching a prodigious age.

One day they stood together in their old age and all the past moments from their life and love together flooded over them. Baucis saw leaves and limbs sprouting from Philemon and realized that the same thing was happening to her. Standing on the plain outside the temple, they transformed into two trees, an oak and a linden, that grew from the same trunk, their limbs intertwined, eternally together. 

That’s a simple re-telling of the tale but I think you can see why this couple might want a symbol of this story to mark their time together…

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The interpretation of our reality through patterns not our own, serves only to make us ever more unknown, ever less free, ever more solitary.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel Speech 1982

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This is a new painting, a 16″ by 20″ canvas, that is part of Haven, my solo show that opens Friday at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. It is titled Seeking the Design.

I chose the words above from the Nobel Prize speech from the late author Gabriel Garcia Marquez to accompany this painting even though Marquez was speaking above how the people and countries of South America had suffered over the centuries by trying to adhere to patterns of behavior and expectation imposed upon them by foreign influences.

These words spoke to me on a more individual level. We often live our lives according to the norms and expectations of others, following well worn paths from which we seldom, if ever, depart. As a result, we often become no more than others expect us to be.

It as though we have not even attempted to find our own pattern, our own design for living.

And that is what I see in this painting. The Red Tree, an earthly being, has come to the end of that worn path and must make a decision about how to proceed. While there are multitudes of options revealed in the maze-like underpainting of the sky and earthly options that likely exist beyond the layers of distant hills, the Red Tree must choose between finding the pattern that best suits its own desires and needs or going back on that path to follow in the footsteps of the crowd that travels along it.

I get the feeling that latter option would result in one feeling, as Marquez pointed out, more unknown, ever less free and ever more solitary.

For me, this painting has a nice harmony between dark edged weariness and colorful optimism. It is both scary and invigorating in finding one’s own design or pattern to follow. I believe the Red Tree will be following its own path.

Well, that’s how I see it, anyway.

 

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Well, I made delivery yesterday to the Principle Gallery of the paintings for my show, Haven. This exhibit opens Friday, June 1 at the Alexandria gallery with a reception that runs from 6:30 until 9 PM.

I guess I should say that it feels good to have the work in place but that wouldn’t be completely honest. While there is satisfaction in the simple completion of a large task I know from past experience that I will do little more than worry for the next several days. And the fact that this is my nineteenth solo show at the Principle Gallery and that I feel this may be among the most cohesive and strong group of work of these shows does absolutely nothing to stem the worry I feel.

In fact, this good feeling about the work, sensing that this work is as true to whatever vision and voice I possess, that makes me worry more than ever. To have it not connect with others, to have it feel distant and obscure on the wall, would have me questioning my own judgement about what I do. While I know that to base anything on the results of one show is foolish, it still makes a mark and creates a wound that makes you a little less willing to fully show yourself for fear of opening that wound again.

But hopefully this worry is baseless. For now, I will live with my worry and the belief that the work in this show ranks among the best that I have done. Time, as is always the case, will tell.

One of the paintings in the show is shown at the top. It is titled To the Siren’s Song and is 16″ by 20″ on canvas. It’s a piece I already miss having in the studio, one that constantly pulled my eye toward it in the months leading up to the show. The painting itself became a kind of siren to me and there is a perceptible void in its absence. For me, there is a blending of colors and forms,  of representation and abstraction, that I find compelling.

But that’s just me.

For this Sunday morning music I have chosen a song that I think fits into the blend of this painting. It is from the late singer/songwriter Tim Buckley who passed away at the all too early age of 28 back in 1975. Most of you are more likely to know the work of his son, Jeff Buckley, who also tragically died an early death at age 30 back in 1997. But Tim Buckley was as highly regarded in his time and his work has played a large influence on may other artists. This song is one of his better known and has been covered by a number of artists over the past half century. Fittingly for this painting, it is titled Song of the Siren. This video is from The Monkees TV show in 1968.

Have a good Sunday.

 

 

 

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