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Arthur Dove- Fire at the Sauerkraut Factory

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We cannot express the light in nature because we have not the sun. We can only express the light we have in ourselves.

-Arthur Dove

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I liked this quote from the Modernist painter Arthur Dove (1880-1946) and while searching for an image of one of his paintings to accompany it, came across this painting. I liked the painting itself but it was the title that really caught my attention. It’s called Fire at the Sauerkraut Factory and was painted around 1936.

It made me wonder where this sauerkraut factory was and when it burned. Dove was born in Canandaigua, NY,  and raised in Geneva, NY, at the north end of Seneca Lake, whose south end is just a short drive from this studio. In those areas around Canandaigua and Geneva are large fields where cabbage is grown. There are, as a result, several factories in the area for the production of sauerkraut. I am not sure if it still applies but at one time this area and one village in particular, Phelps, was the sauerkraut capital of the world.

Just makes me wonder if Dove was basing this painting on a fire from the home of his youth. I was able to find an account of a large sauerkraut factory fire in that area in November of 1917. This story of the fire mentioned that the fire was fought solely with chemicals which might account for the multiple colors of the flames in Dove’s painting.

It also mentioned railroads tracks next to the factory which encumbered the firefighters. I believe the fence-like structures at the lower part  of the painting are actually railroad tracks.

Perhaps Dove, who was living in NYC at the time was visiting either his or his wife’s parents and witnessed the fire or was told about it, with the person telling the story mentioning the wild colors of the fire as the chemicals mixed with the flames.

It’s one of those tiny questions in small stories that may never have an answer. But I like to think that this might have been the story behind this painting that I like and chose to accompany a quote that I also like from the artist.

 

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Couldn’t let the day go by without mentioning that today Otis Redding would be celebrating 78th birthday if he were still alive. Unfortunately, he tragically died 52 years ago in a plane crash. Only 26 years old and filled with a world of talent and a quality in his voice that so many singers try to emulate but seem to always come up short.

I still get chills sometimes listening to his music.

The painting here, The Lost One, is included in my Icons & Exiles show now hanging at the Octagon Library at the Patterson Library in Westfield, NY. I will be giving an Art Talk there this Thursday, beginning at 6 PM.

The Lost One was painted several years ago and was an effort to revisit the Exiles series that was painted back in 1995. While I feel that this painting fits into the series, it doesn’t have the same base of emotion as the others in the series which were painted at time of personal grief. It tries but comes out on a different emotional level.

It seems you can’t simply replicate deep emotion.

But even so, I like and appreciate this piece. It has its own forlorn sadness.

That being said, let’s listen to some Otis. Here’s Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song) from Mr. Pitiful himself.

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GC Myers- Night Comes On

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I went down to the place where I knew she lay waiting
Under the marble and the snow
I said, Mother I’m frightened, the thunder and the lightning
I’ll never come through this alone
She said, I’ll be with you, my shawl wrapped around you
My hand on your head when you go
And the night came on, it was very calm
I wanted the night to go on and on
But she said, go back, go back to the world

Leonard Cohen, Night Comes On

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I finished the painting above earlier this week, a 20″ by 20″ canvas piece that really spoke to me as I was painting it. All the time I was working on it, I had a song running in my head– Here Comes the Night from Them, the Northern Irish band of the 1960’s that featured Van Morrison. Great song with a memorable chorus that really seemed to align with what I was seeing in this piece. Here Comes the Night was the title I mentally attached to this painting while working on it.

But after I was finished with the painting and spent a few days looking at it in the studio, something about the title gnawed at me. For some unknown reason Here Comes the Night as a title just didn’t feel right any more. But I knew there was something in this painting that jibed with a song in my mind, some song that used night in its title and resonated with me personally.

I strained for a couple of days going through night songs that came to mind but none of them were right. It was one of those times when you come across the right answer you will immediately know it.

That time came early this morning. I came into the studio with the title Night Comes On stuck in my mind. I was pretty sure it was from an old Leonard Cohen song that I hadn’t heard in years and had mostly lost in the mossy mire of my brain. But as soon as I put it on, the lyrics flooded back to me, reminding me that it was a song that always cried out to me whenever I heard it.

I knew immediately that it was the right choice. And not just for the lyrics.

While listening to the song and looking at the painting, I realized that the sky and the moon in this painting related directly to a dream that I had several years ago. I am hesitant to share the dream, as its personal and there’s a small superstitious part of me that fears I will weaken the power of that dream if I tell it aloud.

I will say that it came to at a point where I was filled with uncertainty, especially about my place in this world as an artist. I was in between my two annual shows and felt absolutely worthless and creatively impotent. I felt hopelessly paralyzed.

But one night this dream came to me with sense of great calmness and a wisdom that I most certainly never knew in my waking life. I was instantly soothed, my immediate worries evaporating. In the years since it appeared, this dream has remained a source of calm when I am stressed out. This dream marked a change in how I saw myself and what I do. A change that brings with it a calmness and acceptance.

There is something in the sky of this painting that is pulled directly from that dream. I didn’t see it until I heard this song this morning and then that was all I could see. It gives me chills– in a good way.

Here’s the Leonard Cohen song. Time for me to go back to the world.

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The Loner

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I was a loner, am a loner, good Lord, it’s the only way I can imagine working.

–Dorothea Tanning

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I have things to do this morning and really just wanted to show the Dorothea Tanning painting, La Truite au Bleu, at the top, mainly because it pleases me very much. But I find I have to at least make a comment on the quote attached to this post.

I’ve have always worked alone as a painter and, like Tanning, can’t imagine it any other way. With only a few exceptions, when someone is in my studio, I am a bit on edge and even a little defensive. To have someone in the studio on a regular basis, say like studio assistant, would have me nervous and jerky. It would keep me from drifting off in thought when I felt like doing so or screaming in anger or crying in sad happiness.

And to do what I do, I need to do those things.

But more than that, I would have a hard time painting. At least, painting anything meaningful. There would always be something missing, as though I couldn’t commit everything because I would be distracted in maintaining a facade for the other person in my space. I would always be keenly aware of their presence.

I don’t know if that’s good or bad or if it matters in the least. I do know that Tanning lived to be 101 years old, dying in 2012. And until the end of her life, she painted and wrote , always working alone. So, maybe being a loner has it’s advantages.

I guess I will find out, one way or the other.

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This is one of those post where I am just using the content as a pretext for playing a piece of music I want to share. In this case, the pretext is that this year’s edition of my annual solo show, Moments and Color, finishes its run at the West End Gallery at the end of business today. It is a show that blends my better known motifs, such as the Red Tree above in Life Pop, with new directions such as the faces (or masks) that populate the Multitudes series. It’s a show that very much pleases me, both in how it came together and in the response to it.

I want to than everybody who was able to make it to the gallery. Thank you so much for the feedback and for giving homes to many of the works that were part of this show. And, as always, all the thanks I can find to Jesse and Linda Gardner at the gallery for doing a masterful job of hanging the show and for their friendship and encouragement through the past 25 years.

As I often point out, my life would be so much different if I had never encountered the Gardners. And for that I eternally grateful.

Today is the last opportunity to see this show, so if you’re so disposed, pleases stop in at the West End Gallery today. Plus, there is a wealth of great work by the gallery’s many other talented artists that you should take the time to see.

American Music- January 1995- GC Myers

Now, on to the real purpose of this blog– playing some music that I have wanted to share for a bit. I thought the song So Long Baby, Goodbye from The Blasters back in 1981 would fit this subject perfectly. The Blasters, headed by Dave Alvin, were at their peak in the early 1980’s. They were the favorites of many critics and their big thumping sound ushered in the rockabilly revival of of the 80’s and predated and paved the way for the Americana music genre that we know today.

Since that time they have flown under the radar and a lot of folks don’t know the name or have long forgotten it. I was a fan from their first album and even put the name of one of their songs, American Music,  to a small experimental painting back in early, when I was first starting out. It was painted about a month before I began showing my work at the West End Gallery, no doubt while I had The Blasters on the turntable.

Here are two songs from The Blasters– So Long Baby, Goodbye and American Music. Again, many thanks. Have a good day.


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Art is polymorphic. A picture appears to each onlooker under a different guise.

–Georges Braque

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Polymorphic.

I like the sound of the word and the fact it describes the idea that every picture is seen by each viewer in a distinct way. Everyone responds to whatever speaks loudest to them in that picture. Some respond to the colors or forms. Some to textures or brushwork. Some to the subject represented and some to an emotion felt by them that they see in the picture.

As an artist, you often see your own work in one way which is your own personal take on a particular piece. As such, you expect others to see it in the same way. But after a while of being an artist you begin to understand that the polymorphic piece that inspires different responses and interpretations in others is what you desire for your work.

It means the work is beyond the flatness of a single unified response. It is fuller, with more levels of depth of meaning and expression. It means the work has moved beyond your control and become something more, with its own voice and message that is beyond any contrivance you might impose on it.

It’s actually an exciting thing to have others respond to your work in ways you never anticipated, even when it widely swerves from what you yourself saw in it. You know it’s alive then.

And that’s what you seek as an artist– polymorphic creations.

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As the next couple of days are crazy busy for me as I get ready for a Gallery Talk and a show delivery, I wanted to share another little seen piece that will be part of  Icons & Exiles, my exhibit that opens next Friday at the Octagon Gallery.

The piece is Two Sides, shown here on the right. It’s from my Outlaws series from back in 2006 and is one of my favorites from that series. There is something about the dark and light of this piece that gives me a sense of the yin and the yang symbol, the idea that we all have opposing polarities within ourselves.

Two sides.

The Outlaws series introduced the element of a handgun into my work. It wasn’t meant to show the gun in any heroic form. Rather, the gunmen in these paintings seem to be, for me, all possessed with a deep and mortal fear.

The gun in these paintings is a sign of weakness, not strength. They fear something they can’t see, something that they don’t know or understand.

This particular painting has hung within my sight in the studio and it helps me a lot personally. When the events of the world–outer and inner– get to me and I feel anxiety building, I look at this piece and it reminds me that my anxiousness is all built on fear. In that moment, I see I am that guy grasping tightly to my gun looking out at nothing, imagining unseen monsters that are coming for me.

Just naming it as fear makes it subside a bit, brings everything into a more practical and manageable form. I can choose to be scared of bogeymen or can move on with a degree of confidence that I will be capable of handling anything that comes my way.

Fear is a powerful thing, a weakness that alters our perceptions and enables poor decisions and actions.

Fear is the darkness and courage is the light. Holding onto that gun keeps this person in the darkness, in the grip of fear.

That’s what I see in this piece.

You can see this piece and many more like it at the Icons & Exiles exhibit, opening next Friday, August 23, (opening reception 7-9 PM) at the Octagon Gallery at the Patterson Library in Westfield, NY. The exhibit runs until September 20, 2019 and I will be giving an Art Talk there on Thursday, September 12, at 6 PM.

And this Saturday, August 17, there is my annual Gallery Talk at the West End Gallery, beginning at 1 PM. Good talk, some laughs and, best of all, PRIZES! See you there!

Here’s one of my favorites from Richard Thompson, an acoustic version of his classic Shoot Out the Lights.

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