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Archive for the ‘Personal Mythology’ Category

Looking From Above Old Studio, Circa 2007

The studio I built over 20 years ago and worked in for over 10 years is deteriorating and slowly collapsing up in the woods.

I am not surprised by this fact. Out of necessity, it was built quickly with little money.  It was not built to last and I knew that eventually Mother Nature would more than likely reclaim that space as its own.

And she is doing just that.

I went up to see it the other day, taking the short hike up the hill that I had done thousands of times before in the years when I worked there 12 hours a day for 7 days a week. I had avoided it in recent times, mainly because I knew this collapse was imminent. A tree had fallen against it years ago and while it looked like it had only did a little damage to the overhang of the roof, a small branch had breached the roof. In the years that followed rain and snow had did their worst work and last year I found it with a gaping hole in the roof. That along with the rapid decay of a couple of the wood pilings I had employed as a foundation which caused the floor to heave and the doors and windows to rack made this building a total wreck.

It’s sad to see it in this condition, this place that had such a large effect on my life and my work. I know that I failed in many ways by not planning better in its initial construction and for not maintaining it in recent years.

But my failures are not the story I want to focus on here today. There’s actually a positive note here.

I went into this old studio a few days ago to see if I had left anything in here that should be removed. Going through a rack of old frames, some which I would take out later to see if the wood could be salvaged, I came across a piece of plywood pressed against the end of the top shelf. I don’t know why I looked behind it but I pulled it out, revealing a bundle of several large sheets of watercolor paper.

I pulled it out and found a spot where I could examine it. Flipping over the first sheet, I felt like I was slapped. It was a painting from the late 1990’s, one that I distinctly remember. I continued to the next and the next and they all were immediately recognizable pieces. Some were what I would consider good examples of my work at the time and one was a failed piece that I remember well. It was an oil on paper where the color never came together in the way I wanted.

It was all in oddly good condition, given that only several feet away there was gaping hole where all sorts of weather were free to fall. There was some foxing and a little grime but it wasn’t terrible and could be addressed. Obviously, using the acid free cotton watercolor paper and having them bundled together had provided some protection.

But it was the last piece in the bundle that made me tear up. It was a landscape and it had a title and a date at the bottom of the sheet. It was painted on November 9, 1995 and its title was The Sky Will Never Forget ( Hoping For Light). My mom from cancer died later that night, in the first few hours of November 10.

We knew at the time it was coming and it occupied my mind much of that time, often showing itself in my work. My Exiles series is based on that time and her death. How I had lost track of this piece, my most personal document of that time, is beyond me. Another failure. But finding it safely in the wreckage felt like a triumph, a calling out to me from the past.

Like I said, I found myself with tears in my eyes while standing in a wasteland of rubble.

There’s more to this story that connects it further to the Exiles series. That story will have to wait to be told in the days ahead.

Here’s that piece. It needs a little cleaning and a better photo but this captures it.

The Sky Will Never Forget (Hoping For Light) 1995

 

 

 

 

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We live in a time of chaos and confusion, amidst a constant bombardment of information and misinformation, an indecipherable babble of yelled opinions and enough stupidity to fill all the oceans and flood every coastline of this planet.

And that’s on a good day.

This morning I found myself longing for something, some music or reading, that would take me away from this maelstrom of madness. I came to the music of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt whose piece Tabula Rasa was a big influence on my early work.

His work is the antidote to the turbulence of our time. It is what I would call slow music. It is the sort of music that requires you to pause to hear it fully. Doing so slows down the elevated heartbeat, syncs it to a pace that seems to be a meditative drone that has long resided in us though we have long forgotten our ability to find it within ourselves.

For quite some time I have enjoyed Pärt’s adaptation of My Heart’s in the Highlands, which is a 1789 poem/song from the Scottish poet Robert Burns. Listening to it reminds me of the time spent alone wandering in the woods and fields in the hills around our home as a youth. Those times had that same pace, that same heartbeat and silence that made it so memorable in my mind.

Many times I have found my mind wandering back to those times and the spaces and silences that created a sense of home within me. Burns’ words speak a truth for me especially in these times so filled with sound and fury.

Allow yourself to pause for a moment and give a listen. Perhaps you will find your own heart in the highlands…

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,

My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer –

A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;

My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North

The birth place of Valour, the country of Worth;

Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,

The hills of the Highlands forever I love.

Farewell to the mountains high cover’d with snow;

 Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;  

Farewell to the forrests and wild-hanging woods;

Farwell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,

My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer

Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;

My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.

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I too am not a bit tamed,

I too am untranslatable,

I sound my barbaric yawp

over the roofs of the world.

 

-Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

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This new painting,a 24″ by 30″ canvas that is part of my upcoming show at the West End Gallery, is titled My Brisant Bellow. The term brisant bellow is one I have used in the past, my equivalent to Whitman’s barbaric yawp which comes from his Song of Myself in Leaves of Grass.

It is included in the four lines above that have been a guiding beacon for me throughout the past 25 years as I have tried to be an artist. These words instructed me to be only myself, to openly and boldly express my feelings without fear or shame. To not hide my scars, my fears or my weaknesses because they are part of my wholeness and keep me in balance. To not be underestimated or devalued by myself or anyone else. To claim a foothold in this world and bellow out the proof of my existence in my own voice:

Here I am.

There are paintings that I do that are meant to represent this thought, paintings that are meant to be plainly expressions of that Here I am. I consider them icons in my body of work, pieces that fully represent my work and what I want from it. This painting definitely falls in that category. It’s simply put but not a simple expression.

When I look at this painting I personally see myself and all my hopes and aspirations, all that I am or desire to be.

What I hope for this painting is that someone else sees that same here I am in it for themselves, that they see in it those things that make them a whole and perfectly imperfect person with a place in this world and a voice that demands to be heard.

Is that asking too much?

 

 

 

 

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I am in the midst of a crazy busy week as I put the finishing touches on work for my yearly show at the West End Gallery in Corning, NY. This year’s show is called The Rising and opens a mere two weeks from today, FridayJuly 13.

I primarily chose the title because the focus of many of these pieces in this show rested on the rising of the ball-like suns and moons in them. Add to that the posture of the Red Tree in a number of these paintings where it has seemingly climbed to the top the nearest mound and appears to be attempting to rise up to merge itself with the sky.

To transform itself from the worldly to the ethereal.

Ultimately, that is what I want my work to accomplish.

That’s a big jump, I know. And maybe I am foolhardy in thinking I can find it in my work. Certainly, to rise up above the baseness of the earthly and move into a spiritual realm comprised of higher ideals and virtues seems a far reach for any artist. But shouldn’t we attempt to reach beyond our grasp?

Shouldn’t we always aspire to be better?

It’s that quality of aspiring to be better that I hope comes through in this show. The painting at the top shares its title with the show, The Rising, and I hope lives up to it.

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Again, my new show, The Rising, opens Friday, July 1, at the West End Gallery with a reception that runs from 5-7:30 PM.

Plus, pencil in the date for my annual Gallery Talk at the West End takes place Saturday, August 4, beginning at 1 PM. There are more details on that to come but I can promise I will do my best to make it a good one. Like I said, shouldn’t we aspire to be better?

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For 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…

Hermann Hesse, Trees: Reflections and Poems

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The painting at the top is titled The Spirit Tree and is part of my show, Sensing the Unseen, that opens tomorrow at the Kada Gallery. It is 11″ by 15″ on paper.

Trees have always held a firm spot in my heart as symbols of strength, wisdom and calm perseverance. My early memories of childhood often revolved around the black walnut trees in our yard and the hardwoods on the hill behind it. When I was among those trees I felt at home, safely in a realm that moved at pace that was beyond our own idea of time. Ageless.

Even now while the world teeters on the edges of chaos, walking among the trees is a source of great comfort, letting me know that as dire as it may seem this period of time is but a hiccup in the great continuum of the time of trees.

And that is how I look at this piece and the central tree. It stands strong and with an air of ageless wisdom, creating a band of light between the darkness of the earthly dwellings and that of the foreboding sky. As Hesse wrote above, like the most penetrating preacher.

That piece of writing at the top is from Hermann Hesse is from an essay in his book, Trees: Reflections and Poems. It’s a piece of writing that I adore and have posted here before. To read the longer version of this essay  click here.


Sensing the Unseen is now hanging at the Kada Gallery in Erie. The show opens with a reception tomorrow, Friday, December 1, running from 6-9 PM. I will be there to answer your questions or just shoot the breeze. I look forward to seeing and meeting you there.

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pinocchio_shrekI’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful. If I’m on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I’m going, I’m liable to say I’m going to the opera. It’s terrible. 

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the truth and lies lately.  It’s hard to not do so given the current administration’s adoption of using falsehood as the most important component of their strategy in dealing with the press and public.

Every day we are hearing numerous statements and “facts” that are bewildering to behold in that they are so easily proved to be false. I think they are basing this strategy on the old adage that says a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.

The lie moves out there into the great unknown and remains even after it is proven to be false.  The very existence of the statement, even though it is absolutely a lie, is proof enough of its reality for the uninformed.

These are lies that have purpose. These are not innocent misstatements or poor word choices. There is motive. They are meant to do damage, to create effects such as confusion and division.

This is some high level lying, my friends. It’s a world away from the adolescent lies that Holden Caulfield spoke of in the passage at the top of the page.

And a world away from the many, many lies I have told in my life.

You see, I ‘m a confessed and dedicated lifelong liar.

If you ask most people if they lie, they are going to say no.  Most likely it will be an indignant NO! that comes with a glare and a little spittle on their lips like you just tried to stab their baby with a fork.

But if I am asked that question I always tell the truth–Yes, I am a liar.

I heard many lies early on from well seasoned and highly convincing liars.  It was an apprenticeship of sorts.  I learned to fib to get what I wanted, to avoid blame and responsibility, to make others feel better and to cover my inadequacies and my shames.  Sometimes they were petty lies like those of Holden Caulfield, lies for the sake of lying where I would do it simply because I could.  It was just a small thrill to create a false reality that I knew would most likely go undetected.

To the kid’s mind, there was no harm or consequence involved. But of course, that is only a lie we tell ourselves to make it all seem okay. It did damage. Even those little fibs stressed my moral boundaries and acted as a gateway to a higher level of larger, more harmful lies as I moved into adulthood.

Along with this came that ability to rationalize the falsehoods that would temper the sense of shame I began to feel as my life progressed. Every lie became part of bigger construct, an ever growing tower built of lies. I am not going to get into specifics here but I will say that there came a point when when I didn’t know if the words coming out of my mouth beforehand were going to be the truth or another addition to my tower of lies. It came down to whatever was the easiest course through the situation at hand.

Fortunately, and this is not a lie, the shame I felt in living this way prevailed. I became a born again believer in truth, even the hard ones that I once avoided with all sorts of lies. It was liberating in so many ways.  Life became simpler with truth.

My tower of falsehoods was disassembled and I now reside in a snug and modest bungalow of relative honesty. I say relative because I have found that in dealing with my father’s dementia there are acceptable lies that we allow ourselves to tell so as not to alarm him and to ease his anxieties. That rationale does make it any easier to accept and I often find myself wracked with guilt.

I also use the term relative because lying is like a monkey on your back that will not let go.  Once in a while I feed the monkey exaggerations ( I think a million or a million and a half people came to my last gallery talk) and meaningless and ridiculous fibs such as saying that I got out of bed at 6:30 when I know for fact that it was 6:15.

That satisfies the monkey for now but someday soon I hope to send the monkey to a farm at some remote place where I will hopefully not visit it at all ever again. I am working on it. That is the truth.

You would think that with this long personal relationship with lying, I might find something admirable in the artistry of the liars we’re experiencing today.

I don’t.  We can’t rationalize it nor can we accept it as a normal mode of operation.  Every lie must be challenged, every lie must be counted and displayed for the world to witness.

To tolerate it is to choose to live on a very tall tower of lies. And that is a dangerous and precarious perch for us all.

Think about it before you shrug off yet another obvious lie from those who want to govern you.

I have to go. I have a Liars Anonymous meeting that starts 30 minutes from now.  That’s a lie– it starts in an hour. Liar!

 

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Shadowland

GC Myers- Shadowland 2003This painting, a 24″ by 20″ canvas is titled Shadowland. It’s from back in 2003 and has been living with me for almost all of the time since, floating from wall to wall in the studio. It’s been with me for so long that it sometimes go unnoticed and unappreciated for long periods of time.  But sometimes I find myself stopping as I am passing it with some other thought in mind.

There are times when I’ll look at it and think, almost dismissively,”It’s just too simple.”

But there are moments like this morning when I find myself completely swallowed by the scene, as though the simplicity of the composition were drawing me close so that it could envelope me in its warm tones.

In those moments, I am entranced, embraced in a colorful atmosphere that surrounds me like a blanket. I am safe. The anger, the anxieties and the cares of the physical world are kept at bay for a moment.

A brief but glorious moment.

And those few seconds give me hope and fill me with energy.

And I find myself wondering how that emotion, that feeling, was hidden in such a simple thing.  And I am gladdened that there is that mystery, that it is so far beyond me.  I need that mystery, that wonder.

It means that my work is still ahead of me.  My task.

And I say, “It’s just too simple.”

But I am not being dismissive this time.

 

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