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The Country

GC Myers- 2018 FingerpaintingLiving in the country, especially on the edge of the forest, makes one aware of their proximity to critters. There are deer and raccoons and squirrels and skunks and coyotes and bobcats and birds of all shapes and sizes.

But mainly living in the country makes you aware of the presence of mice in this world, how they live so closely to us, hovering nearby almost like little brown and gray shadows. Sometimes you hardly see them at all but they leaves traces that speak of their existence, often a hole chewed in a box or a bag in a closet or in the basement. Or those little hard nuggets on a shelf or table. I once had a mouse that had walked through a tray of wet paint that I had inadvertently left out overnight and walked across the edge of a piece I had been working on.

Little blue paw prints meandering around the edge of the surface. Hope they liked what they saw.

All these things occur here in the studio. At such times, I look over at Hobie, my studio cat who was once a known hunter of great renown, and ask her if she has been doing her job patrolling the mice population. She just looks away without an ounce of care for my concern.

I wonder if she has a secret pact with the mice now. After all, the gifts she once laid at my feet– poor mice, chipmunks, birds, and snakes– have ceased altogether.

They slowed considerably after she made the transition from stray cat to part-time outdoor cat to fulltime studio cat. But they did continue. I would sometimes come into the studio and there would sometimes be a sad prize waiting for me in front of my desk chair or at the base of my easel. Hobie would saunter over as if to proudly say, “See what I did for you while you were gone?”

But that doesn’t happen now. Actually, there are fewer traces of my little rodent housemates lately. Maybe the several feral cats who have taken up recent residency around our place have effectively shut down their runways in and out of our place. Maybe. But I doubt that even a terrible trio of hungry cats could completely stop the smart and versatile mice that I know so well. Their little brains work better than some folks I know.

I am sure they are still there. I don’t mind to be honest. Not that I am thrilled by the evidence they leave behind. So long as they don’t bother me, I can coexist with them.

Not everyone can. I used to work with a lady who proclaimed that her home had no mice at all. She lived in an old house near the river so I knew the idea that that critters somehow weren’t taking advantage of a warm place to live and eat was foolishness. I would just laugh at her and tell her that she might not see them but they were there.

She would let out a shiver and say that no, they were not there. I guess she had to say that for her own peace of mind but I know that somewhere in that old house, in the attic or basement, there is a meeting going on right now where all the mice are discussing the best places to eat in that house.

The reason I bring this up this morning is that I came across an animation of a poem by former Poet Laureate Billy Collins that is abut this subject. It’s called The Country. I never worried about my boxes of matches before but this has me wondering. Take a look.



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GC Myers- From a Distance  2020

“From a Distance”- At the West End Gallery



Wanted to just share a poem and an animation of it that features it being read by the poet, Gregory Orr. I chose this one because of a line in it — No purpose but what we make— that made me think about the nature of purpose. We often speak of finding purpose in ourselves but is it something to be found? Or might it be something that we create for ourselves, something that we actually choose?

I have to think on that for a bit. In the meantime, please take a look at the short reading of the poem.



This is what was bequeathed us

This is what was bequeathed us:
This earth the beloved left
And, leaving,
Left to us.

No other world
But this one:
Willows and the river
And the factory
With its black smokestacks.

No other shore, only this bank
On which the living gather.

No meaning but what we find here.
No purpose but what we make.

That, and the beloved’s clear instructions:
Turn me into song; sing me awake.

–Gregory Orr (b. 1947)



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singularity4



I had other things on my mind about what I would write here this morning. I was going to question how a law that makes giving a drink of water to someone in line at the polls a crime is supposed to prevent voter fraud. I was also going to question the motive for other such suppressive provisions in legislation being moved into law around much of this country.

But before I could start, I came across this short animation of a poem from poet Marie Howe and I decided that maybe this was the better way to go this morning.

Her poem is titled Singularity and refers to the theory Stephen Hawking (among others) set forth that the universe and all that it is was once a single thing before the Big Bang created all that we know the universe to be now.

We were all part of one thing.

No, we were that one thing.

That is as simple as I can put it and still understand it. I am not even sure that simple explanation is correct. Much as Howe explains to her audience, my own grasp of advanced physics and most other great scientific theoretical concepts is limited. But the idea that we were once one and that we may all at some point become one again is somehow appealing to something inside me.

I don’t know. My eternal refrain.

Take a look. The Marie Howe poem is below the video.

 





SINGULARITY
by Marie Howe

          (after Stephen Hawking)

Do you sometimes want to wake up to the singularity
we once were?

so compact nobody
needed a bed, or food or money —

nobody hiding in the school bathroom
or home alone

pulling open the drawer
where the pills are kept.

For every atom belonging to me as good
Belongs to you.
   Remember?

There was no   Nature.    No
 them.   No tests

to determine if the elephant
grieves her calf    or if

the coral reef feels pain.    Trashed
oceans don’t speak English or Farsi or French;

would that we could wake up   to what we were
— when we were ocean    and before that

to when sky was earth, and animal was energy, and rock was
liquid and stars were space and space was not

at all — nothing

before we came to believe humans were so important
before this awful loneliness.

Can molecules recall it?
what once was?    before anything happened?

No I, no We, no one. No was
No verb      no noun
only a tiny tiny dot brimming with

is is is is is

All   everything   home

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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




I finished this smaller piece the other day (it is headed to the West End Gallery today) and with the Red Tree appearing to hover above the Red Roofs both near and far, all I could think of were the lines above from Uncle Walt. That’s Walt Whitman, actually, but I always think of him in familial terms not that he was anything at all like my own uncles.

These lines from Song of Myself have rang in my ears for decades and are at the core of my desire to paint and in the formation of my voice as an artist.

Before I even thought of beginning to paint, I tried my hand at wood carving. I did a number of bas-relief carvings that were fairly crude in a folksy kind of way. I was untrained and just went at it, much as I did later on with my painting. I believe that the painting worked out much better but the carving had a part to play for me at the time.

One of the first things I carved was a rough-hewn face with the four lines– poorly executed– from Whitman next to it. It was nothing to write home about, carved as it was from the end of an old 2×12 pine board. I am not particularly proud of it as a piece of art but it has great meaning to me and stays near me in the studio.

I have described what these words have meant to me in the past like this:

…the four lines above 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?

I immediately thought looking at this new painting that it fit into this category, that the Red Tree here represented my own need to let out my barbaric yawp, to announce my existence in this world. I am calling it I Sound My Barbaric Yawp.

It might not be quite as roughly finished as the carving but the yawp is the same.

Sound your own yawp in the world today. Have a good one.

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Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

The Ballad of East and West, Rudyard Kipling



Showing another new Little Gem from the West End Gallery show, this one titled Across the Divide.

The title refers to the the river that separates the two opposing shores. There is a political commentary implied in the blue and red of the two shores representing the colors of the political divisions here in the US.

There’s a lot of talk about the need for unity, about how we need to come together as a nation, but it seems as though there is a wide and mighty river between us, one that may never be traversed.

Like the opening line from the Kipling poem– and never the twain shall meet.

I would like to think that there is common ground that we share as citizens of this nation but it’s had to see at the moment. That river looks pretty darn wide.

I was about to start on a spiel about the need for compromise but I am going to skip it. Most of you out there who read this are intelligent people who understand compromise and how important its place is in big country with a wide variety of people. You know that everybody doesn’t get exactly what they want all the time, that we all have to sacrifice at some point for the greater good.

Sometimes we give and sometimes we get, depending on our needs and situations. 

And that is a simple, workable concept until you factor in ignorance, racial hatred, and greed.

Then things go awry and you get to this point where we are now, with a wide and deep river running between us. 

I still have hope and I see it in this piece. There’s too many things here that unite us if we only allow to set aside our biases, judgements, and prejudices.

I know that’s asking a lot but is it, really?

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And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
the Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Christmas Bells



The lines above are the last two stanzas of a poem Longfellow wrote in 1863 during the height of the American Civil War. Several years later, in 1872, the poem was incorporated into the Christmas carol we know as I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

I am hoping that the last three lines hold true for us going into the future.


I ran the short bit above several years ago on this day, Christmas, in the pivotal year of 2016, just after a new president*** had been elected and there was still uncertainty as to what he would turn out to be.

As for the poem which later became the carol, there is a little more to add to the story which I thought I would add this morning.

At the time it was written, Longfellow was still deeply grieving the tragic death of his wife in July of 1861. She caught on fire while using sealing wax on an envelope and despite Longfellow’s efforts died the next day from her burns. Longfellow also suffered severe burns, to the point that he was unable to attend her funeral. It also left scars on his face which prevented him from shaving so that he wore a full beard until his death in 1882. 

After his wife’s death, Longfellow suffered extreme depression, turning at times to using laudanum to ease his sorrow. In the winter of 1863, as he began writing the verses above, he was deeply depressed by his continued grief, his worry over the war that raged between the states, and the fact that his son had been severely wounded in combat. As he wrote, he heard two church pealing for the holiday and he felt his demeanor changed by it, feeling hope that indeed wrong would fail and that right would prevail.

It made for a powerful bit of verse. This morning, I am filled with the hope that right has indeed prevailed and will continue to do so. Let’s hope that this Christmas day, taking place under the dark clouds of pandemic and disorder, offers us the light of hope on the horizon.

Below is a nice version of the carol with lyrics from the late folksinger and damn fine actor, Burl Ives.

Merry Christmas to you all. May you have a good and loving day. Peace.



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“In These Days”- Now at the West End Gallery



SEPTEMBER 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
‘I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,’
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.”

― W.H. Auden, Another Time



The poet W.H. Auden wrote this poem, September 1, 1939, as the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, marking the beginning of World War II.  I realize that many of you may not enjoy poetry but I think this is one that deserves a few minutes of your time, one that speaks of that time and this time. The final two verses resonate with me and mirror my own feelings as I watch the death toll from the pandemic grow with each passing day– over 6000 deaths here in the past two days alone– and the acts of sedition taking place within our government and the courts as dishonest men attempt to undo the will of our electorate.

Both are insidious, slowly creeping upon us so that many of us pay little attention and go about our days trying to act as though nothing is taking place. If the deaths were violent and amassed quickly within a day or so, we would respond with an outcry and greater action. The same with the attempted coup d’etat we have at hand. Both plod forward in a slow manner so that we somehow think it is almost normal.

It’s not. And thinking, reasonable people can see this. It brings despair but it also brings out, as Auden put it, an affirming flame in many. A stirring to action in a time when so many are complicit with their silence and the loudest voices are from the worst among us.

In the end it comes down to this, again from Auden:

There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Do not let your guard down. Be careful out there and have a good day.

If you don’t like to read poetry, here’s a fine reading of this piece from actor Michael Sheen.



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“And Dusk Dissolves”– At the Principle Gallery, Alexandria, VA



“I love to watch the fine mist of the night come on,
The windows and the stars illumined, one by one,
The rivers of dark smoke pour upward lazily,
And the moon rise and turn them silver. I shall see
The springs, the summers, and the autumns slowly pass;
And when old Winter puts his blank face to the glass,
I shall close all my shutters, pull the curtains tight,
And build me stately palaces by candlelight.”

Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal



I was looking at the image of this painting, And Dusk Dissolves, this morning while a song was playing and the two pieces meshed together so well. The song was Ashokan Farewell, a song written and performed by Jay Ungar, one that most widely known as the theme for The Civil War series from documentarian Ken Burns, for which it was written. It was written in 1981 but feels so authentic that most folks believe it is actually a Civil War era song.

It certainly has a strong atmosphere of its own. And I think that’s why it meshed so well with this painting which is my depiction of a deep moment of dusk. Dusk is an interesting and one of the more emotional points in any day. Symbolically, it marks the end of the workday and becomes a time to pause and reflect on the work done for that day. There is satisfaction in its accomplishments and a bit of sadness in its failures and missed opportunities. As I said, it is a time of pause and reflection as opposed to the dawn which is more forward looking, based on the potentials of the coming day.  

And night itself is a time for one to put the prior day behind them and to rest and perhaps plan for the next. Or to simply imagine a new future well beyond the next day or the day after that. To, as Baudelaire put it, build me stately palaces by candlelight.

But here I am in the dusk’s early light. The night has passed and my plans for stately palaces have faded in that first light as I focus on more pressing matters for this day. But for a moment, I can put off the day once more and look at this image while hearing those mournful tones of Ashokan Farewell again.

Take a look and give a listen for yourself. Have a good day.



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“Riding It Out”- Now at the Principle Gallery



“Speak, roofless Nature, your instinctive words;
And let me learn your secret from the sky,
Following a flock of steadfast-journeying birds
In lone remote migration beating by.
December stillness, crossed by twilight roads,
Teach me to travel far and bear my loads.”

― Siegfried Sassoon



Just wanted to share the new painting at the top, Riding It Out, which is currently at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA as part of their Small Works show which officially opens this coming weekend. I thought the short verse from the late British poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) was fitting for this piece.

I have to admit I knew nothing of Sassoon or his work except that which I have looked up after coming across this short piece. He was an interesting character. Before World War I, he was sort of a idler of the near upper class, primarily spending his time playing cricket and writing verse. He opposed the war at its onset but served and was highly decorated for his almost suicidal courage, earning the nickname Mad Jack.

However, his writing did not glorify war or its combatants. He was deeply affected by the horrific nature of war, the senseless brutality, the foolish jingoism that enabled it and the way people fetishized it. His verses on about the war were raw and brutal in their own way and he was recognized as one of the great war poets. One of his most famous poems, Atrocities, has the narrator coming across a man in a bar bragging about his exploits, how he killed German prisoners, when he knows the man to have been a coward who faked illness whenever the orders were dangerous and was eventually sent home. His disgust at the man is almost palpable.

But his words here, while not concerned with war, deal with endurance and match the tone of this painting as I see it. From adversity and challenge, we lean how to bear our burden. We learn how to endure. That’s how I see a lot of my boat and wave paintings, as being about being challenged in the moment and persevering.

Something many of us face every day with our own waves, our own challenges. Hope you ride yours out today.

Have a good one.

 

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Good Bones

“From a Distance”- At the West End Gallery



GOOD BONES/ by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.



I came across this 2016 poem from American poet Maggie Smith very early this morning and it really struck a chord. 

We all want things right now, want them to be complete and perfect. Move in ready. But things are seldom that way. It requires imagination and desire to see the potential that things hold. And hard work and determination to reach that potential.

“This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.”

Indeed.

I had never seen or heard this poem but it is quite well known. It has been read and published around the world and Maggie Smith is often asked to read it at events. She calls it her Freebird, which is quite a funny line.

It was written in the aftermath of the 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub that killed 49 people. Its popularity was maintained through the momentous 2016 elections here and in the UK –it was called “Official Poem of 2016” by the BBC/Public Radio International— and has continuously popped up throughout the past four years as folks to try to maintain optimism in the dark atmosphere that has marked this era.

I somehow missed it until about 5:30 this morning. Always late to the dance.

But I imagine that this poem will remain popular because, as she points out, the world is at least fifty percent terrible and will no doubt remain so. It will always require plenty of imagination, desire, determination — and throw in loads of blood, sweat and tears– to overcome the awfulness that resides side-by-side with us in this world so that we can make it into that perfect home we all dream of for ourselves.

“This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.”

Indeed.

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