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Archive for the ‘Personal Mythology’ Category

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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There’s so much craziness taking place in this country at this point in time.  I wanted to write something that would plead for our patience and tolerance,  asking us to avoid the knee jerk reactions, finger-pointing and extreme behaviors that have brought us here.  To ask that we just breath and take a moment to consider the consequences of our words and actions.

I could do that.  But there has been so much said, so many words asking for calm  and some unfortunately, asking for retribution and more anger.  So instead I am going to focus on a different time and place.  Below is a piece from back in 2010 that focuses on the Coney Island paintings of Reginald Marsh, a favorite of mine, and some of my recollections of Coney Island.  Reginald Marsh

Reginald Marsh Coney Island Beach I’m always intrigued by the paintings of Reginald Marsh, who painted scenes depicting the urban world of New York City throughout the early part of the 20th century until his death in 1954.  His paintings always seemed densely packed with figures and constant movement, all rendered with easily recognizable line work and colors that were strong yet had a soft transparency.  Striking.

One of his favorite subjects was Coney Island, the famous part of Brooklyn with its beach, boardwalk and amusement park.  Whenever I see Marsh’s Coney Island paintings I am always reminded of the several trips I made there as a child in the late 1960’s.  My parents and I would go to NY to see Mets’ games, leaving my older, busier siblings at home, and would sometimes go to Coney Island on the day when the games were at night. 

It was always like entering an exotic, much different world than my country home.  It was dirty with  trash strewn everywhere.  I remember the first time we swung into the parking lot at Astroland, the amusement park there, and thinking we’d entered a landfill as there were literally piles of paper and bottles over nearly the whole lot.  If you spent much time in NY at that time, it was not an unusual sight.

Reginald Marsh The Lucky DaredevilsBut it was great fun and over the few visits there I had many memories that burned indelibly into my memory bank.  My parents, and my aunt and uncle who sometimes were with us, would, after a while stop at one of the bars that opened to the boardwalk to have a cold one and I would wander alone.  It was a wonderland of colorful attractions and games, their facades faded by time and sun. I have sharp memories of standing at one bar’s doorway and watching a singer all dressed in cowboy regalia standing on the bar with his electric guitar singing out country songs in the middle of the afternoon.  I sometimes wonder if it might have been country troubador Jerry Jeff Walker who had come out of Brooklyn. 

 Reginald Marsh Coney Island SceneI remember seeing the crowds down on the beach and suddenly seeing everyone there pointing out to the water and yelling.  Looking out, I saw two legs bobbing straight out of the water, almost comically so.  The lifeguards rushed out and dragged the body in.  Dead and, now that I think about it, had probably been so for a while.

I also remember going into a boardwalk arcade and approaching an older man with a gray moustache and a coin changer on his belt.  I asked for change and handed him my dollar bill.  He made a couple of clicks on the changer and poured a pile of nickels into my hands.  As I turned to go the machines, he put his hand on my shoulder.

Reginald MarshTunnel of Love“Hold on!” he exclaimed in a thick accent that sounded Greek and a little angry to a terrified nine year old.  He started chastising me.

“You don’t know me! Don’t ever trust anyone you don’t know.  I give you money and you trust me and don’t count.  You should not trust me.  Now, count!”

I stood there petrified and counted out loud.  It was the right change, of course, and the man’s gruff demeanor suddenly changed and he beamed a smile at me.  “You understand? Now go.  Have fun,” he said as he gave me a pat on the shoulder.

A little life lesson along with the change on the boardwalk in 1969.

That moment is clear as yesterday and it always reappears when I see images from Marsh or images of Coney Island.

Reginald Marsh Pip and Flip

 

 

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GC Myers- Icon: Joe H.Here’s my latest entry into the Icon series, a 12″ by 12″ canvas piece that is titled Icon: Joe H.  He is my 3rd great-grandfather and his name was Joseph Harris and he was born in the Lindley (the town named after our common ancestor, Eleazer Lindsley,who was among the first Icons) area south of Corning in 1833.

He led a fairly typical life for the time and place, serving in the Civil War and raising a family.  He worked primarily as a blacksmith and a sawyer ( I have a lot of lumbermen in my family– maybe that’s where my affinity for trees comes from) in his early years, working for a number of years in the then booming timber business that was taking place in northern Pennsylvania and western NY.   It was there that his wife, Emeline Whitney, died just a year or so after the end of the Civil War.  Later in his life, he returned to the area of his birth, settling in as a farmer  just over the border in Pennsylvania where he died in 1922.

That was about the extent of his life for me, at least what I could find of it in records.  I did discover that he married his step-sister, Jennie, who was twenty years younger, as his second wife.  But it was my research into local newspapers that gave me a better sense of him.

Looking at records gave no indication of anything but the basics but in his 1922 death notice printed in the Wellsboro Agitator ( I love the name of that paper!) the headline lists him as a “Skilled and Noted Musician.”  It goes on to say that he had been the one-time Banjo Champion of the United States.  He very well may have picked up the banjo from his Civil War experience as it’s popularity in the time after the war is often attributed to many people being exposed to it for the first time during their service.  I could never find anything to document a championship which was no big surprise as it most likely occurred somewhere in the 1870’s or 1880’s and whatever group sanctioned the competition is more than likely no longer in existence.

But I was pleased to know that music played a big part in his life and I later found an item that confirmed this.  It stated that his son, William Harris, was working as a musician in one of the  oilfield boom towns in northern PA in the 1890’s when he tragically took his own life by shooting himself at the hotel where he was living.  As is often the case, you find a lot of tragedy when you look backwards so it’s some consolation to know that there was a bit of music and joy mixed in there somewhere.

I did visit Joe’s gravesite a while back.  It is a bare-boned and flat plot of land that sits next to a harsh little trailer park visible from the new interstate.  Standing at his grave you looked into the backyard of several trailers, the kind of yards scattered with kids toys, spare tires and oil drums.

It made me a little sad but then, I guess a guy who lived through the Civil War, endured the death of his first wife and several of his children before him and lived to see the first World War, this wasn’t all that bad.

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GC Myers- Icon- Peter the ScoundrelThis painting, a new 24″ by 20″ canvas, is titled Icon: Peter the Scoundrel.  This may not be my favorite painting from the Icon series that I’ve been working on as of late but this has been by far the hardest piece for me to complete.  It just kept going and going and I completely repainted the head and face at least six different times.  Each face never felt right and I could not get a handle on how I wanted to portray the person behind this painting.

Actually, I could never get a handle on this person, period.

His name was Peter Bundy, my 3rd great grandfather and he is buried in an old cemetery in Caton, just outside of Corning.  It’s a cemetery that I knew well from my childhood, having spent a lot of time with my favorite cousin in Caton.  In fact, my cousin worked in the cemetery as a teen, digging graves by hand.  I never knew at the time how many ancestors of mine were buried right there but doing research on my family lines I found that there were dozens and dozens of relatives there including  this Peter Bundy.

His grave stone says that he was born in Scotland in 1823 and served in the Civil War with the Ohio 75th Regiment.  Doing a bit of research I found a veteran’s pension record from the 1890’s that stated he had been captured and held at the infamous Andersonville Prison Camp.  That same record listed him as having an aliasCharles McKinney.  My mind began to imagine that perhaps he was a Union spy.

If only it could have been that simple.

A few years passed and one day I had a message about my family line on the Ancestry site.  It was from a family who had done research on their family line and had found that my gr-grandfather Peter Bundy was also their gr-grandfather.  Except that he had a different wife and a different name– Levi McProuty.  It turns out that my Peter Bundy held that name and married  under it in the years before the Civil War.   Living in western Steuben County, they had two children, a boy and two girls, before he ostensibly left in 1861 to serve in the Union army.  A year or so later, his wife was informed somehow that he had been killed in combat.

She and her children never saw him again.

It seems that in the year that he was gone, he had shed the name of Levi McProuty,  married my 3rd great-grandmother, Elizabeth Everetts, and had a child, my 2nd gr-grandmother.  While he may not have even served in the war as Levi McProuty, he did leave for service in the Civil War as Peter Bundy.  He returned to his second wife and child.

However, for the next twenty or so years, he didn’t show up in any public records.  But his wife and child did– his wife under the name of McKinney and his daughter under her married name.  He showed up in some veterans’ pension records  and the census before dying in 1901.  His wife died in 1915.  Both were listed under the Bundy name.

I don’t know if this is clearly written so that you can follow it– I know that it is so convoluted that I have trouble keeping it straight in my head.

So, was he really Peter Bundy or Levi McProuty?  Or Charles McKinney?  Or somebody completely different?  Was he even born in Scotland?  I find myself thinking that he may not have even served in the war, that he may have stolen the identities of other soldiers.  How he ended up serving in an Ohio regiment– Ohio being several hundred miles away– is another question that comes to mind.  Was his time at Andersonville just another lie? I don’t know if anything that is considered factual about this person is indeed real except for the fact that this person, my great-great-great grandfather, lived for a time and died in Caton–that’s on his gravestone.

And that he was a scoundrel.  That is not on his stone.

I think it’s this doubt that fed the troubles I had with this painting.  I could never see a face or a facial expression that suited this person because I never had an idea of his truth.  And just when I thought I would have a sense of him, there was always a new twist with which to contend.  When I had the different faces on this figure I felt a lot of discontent and anxiety, even waking up in my sleep thinking about it.

So yesterday morning, I came into the studio and decided to just simply put him in a mask.   A grinning, mocking mask that let’s me know that I don’t really know him and I doubt that I ever will.

 

 

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GC Myers- Railbirds 1994This is an older painting of mine from back in 1994.  I was in the transition from trying to simply replicate the work of others to developing my own visual voice.  I wasn’t sure where it would go from there and didn’t even have an idea of how to proceed.  I just painted and painted, letting each piece be the guide for the next.  Sometimes it brought forth breakthroughs and sometimes not.  But this time and this work still brings back that excitement of the unknown that was so present in that time.

This little piece is a favorite of mine from that time and is painted in a more traditional watercolor style that I was dabbling in at the time.  It is titled Railbirds and depicts a scuffle between the inhabitants at the rail of a horsetrack.  Perhaps there was a dispute over a mislaid wager or which jockey looked sharpest in their colors.  Who knows?

I spent an inordinate time as a kid at the race track, reading the Racing Form and drinking way too much Coke.  One summer, my father and I were at the track on average 3-4 times a week.  It was a time when a 13-year old kid could lay wagers at the betting windows without any questions and I would often act as a runner for bets, including my own.  I learned a lot of lessons there.

First, that I was lousy judge of horses and a pretty mediocre gambler.  But more importantly, it was a laboratory and showcase for human behavior and it stirred in me the beginnings of a realization that I didn’t want to spend my life in that way.  I saw lives that were heavily addicted to gambling and alcohol and it seemed like such a waste of time in what even then seemed like a too brief lifespan.  There were very unhappy, angry and greedy people there, always on display and they made an impression on me.

Maybe these lesson and these people formed the darkness that I use as a base for my work.  I often think it is the contrast between the underlying darkness and the overriding light of my work that sometimes makes it effective, makes it feel hopeful without being pollyanna-ish.

I don’t know for sure.  But I do look at this piece quite often in the studio, studying its rhythm and flow while thinking of those times, good and bad.

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GC Myers- Release the Past smEvery man’s memory is his private literature.
Aldous Huxley
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The painting shown above, Release the Past, is a 20″ by 24″ canvas that is part of my current show at the West End Gallery.  I was recently thinking about it, trying to discern exactly what it was that I was seeing in this piece, when I pulled up an earlier blogpost that featured the Huxley quote above.  It very much was in line with how I aligned this painting, with the figure in the mid-ground seemingly lost in thoughts of the past,  with my own experience.

Here’s what I wrote:

I like this quote from Huxley.  I have often felt that all of our personal lives fit into some sort of mythic template on which all literature is based and that we often fail to see the connections between the tales of our own lives and those stories which have come down through history in the form of myth and legend.  We all live lives that are often filled with tragedy , comedy and drama.  Heroic, even.  But we seldom perceive them as such, instead thinking of our personal memories as being merely mundane. 
 
And that’s probably as it should be.  Life is spent, for the most part, moving forward in small, day-to-day steps with little time left to see the larger pattern of our lives.  Who has the time to reflect backwards, to see how our lives fit into the templates of eternity?  Very few of us, to be sure.  But what if we could take that time to look back fully and see the patterns set in history and to see that our lives own patterns mesh into that pattern, that we are all indeed connected to and part of the same fabric?
 
Would it make a bit of difference?  Would it make us appreciate the fragility and rareness of  each individual’s place in this world. make us understand that our own history is the history of all and that our memory binds us to the fabric of history?
 
I don’t know.  But it’s something to think about.

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