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Archive for the ‘Quote’ Category

Robert Henri- Irish Girl (Mary O’Donnel) -1913

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Because we are saturated with life, because we are human, our strongest motive is life, humanity; and the stronger the motive back of the line the stronger, and therefore more beautiful, the line will be.

–Robert Henri (1865-1929)

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I came across this quote from the highly influential painter/ teacher Robert Henri and it made me think of two separate incidents that influenced my work.

The first comes from the quote itself, about how a strong belief in humanity and life should manifest itself in one’s art, creating a stronger and bolder and more beautiful line. It brings to mind the only art training I ever received, a night course, Drawing 101, from a local community college. I was taking it because at the time I had an interest in pursuing architecture and needed a portfolio. All the drawing I had done up to that time was just, more or less, doodling on bits of paper, in journals, or in the margins of magazines and newspapers. I thought a course on drawing would get me to some work that might help in putting together a portfolio.

The course ended up being a travesty. The instructor had little interest in being there and gave only cursory instruction. He kept an eye fixed on the clock and often ended the sessions early so that he could get to the local pub a bit quicker. I didn’t get much out of the course and dropped my quest to go into architecture but I did get one bit of advice that I carried with me.

The instructor pointed out that he preferred strong, bold lines even if they were not completely accurate or correct in the context of the drawing. They exuded confidence and that was more important that accuracy, especially if the lines were weak and tentative. That really struck a chord with me and stuck with me through the years until I began painting.

I think his words line up well with Henri’s assertion above. That confidence the instructor referred to is much the same as Henri’s saturation with life and humanity.

The other incident that I was reminded of upon stumbling across Henri’s words is my encounter with the painting at the top of the page. It is titled Irish Girl ( Mary O’Donnel) and was painted by Henri in 1913 and is at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. When I first saw it, I was showing my work at several galleries and was about a year away from my first big solo show at the Principle Gallery.

I encountered this painting in a large gallery in the museum and was struck how people would immediately head to this painting, even though it was one of the smaller pieces in the large space. I couldn’t figure out why this was. I mean, it was a strong painting but the way people were attracted to it seemed out of line with what I was seeing. Looking at it dispassionately, I finally settled on the color of her sweater as being the reason. It was deep crimson that really popped off the wall.

It made me examine my own palette of colors. My colors at the time were more earth toned and red was certainly not a large part of it. When it did come into play, it was usually more subdued and washed out. Pale. To tell the truth, I was a bit afraid of it as a color. When I tried it in a bolder way, it often skewed to harsher, sharper tones that were not to my liking and usually didn’t align with the emotional context of the painting.

But seeing Henri’s use of it made me better appreciate the power of the color. I began to work with it more and soon was incorporating in my work on a regular basis. It became a vital part of my visual vocabulary. It showed itself in a big way with my first show at the Principle Gallery which was titled Red Tree. It has stuck with me and I have Henri’s Irish Girl to thank.

It’s interesting how sometimes failed attempts, like my college course, or confounding encounters, such as mine with Henri’s painting, have impacts on you that you could never foresee. You never truly know what will come from anything we stumble across. Inspiration comes in many forms.

Have a good Saturday.

 

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GC Myers- A Small Serenity*******************************

We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil. Serenity is contagious. If we smile at someone, he or she will smile back. And a smile costs nothing. We should plague everyone with joy. If we are to die in a minute, why not die happily, laughing? 

― Swami SatchidanandaThe Yoga Sutras

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The painting above, created a couple of years back, recently came back to me which was a surprise because it really spoke to and pacified me from the moment it was finished. It was painted as a reaction to the darker nature of the time in which it was painted and was meant to serve as a hopeful guide forward. Given that the darkness of that time has only deepened, I believe its message is even more necessary today. 

To give an example, during the drive to visit my father who is a resident in a nursing facility suffering from Alzheimer’s related dementia, I find myself more and more aggravated these days by the people I encounter on the road. Some days I arrive at the facility seething and tense. But walking in, I try to smile and say something, a simple “hello” or “how are you?,” to the folks I meet on the way. That simple act and the occasional return of a smile or greeting from the other person has a profoundly soothing effect on me. My mounting misanthropy fades away for those moments.

And maybe that’s what I hope for this piece.  I don’t know. Anyway, here’s what I wrote about this piece a few years back:

I call this tidy 6″ by 12″ painting A Small Serenity. It’s a small and simple piece but it has a lovely feeling of tranquility in it, one that far exceeds its humble size. If anything, its dimensions enhance its sense of serene quietness.

And perhaps that is how a contagion of serenity begins, as a small seed within ourselves. A tiny feeling of peaceful tranquility that grows then bursts from us, radiating outward to infect those around us and hopefully through them to others.

And on and on and on.

The cynical part of me knows that such a plague of placidity is improbable but looking at this little painting for a moment gives me the serenity to hope and ask,“Why not? What harm could be done in being kind and calm or in wearing a smile? As the late Swami Satchidananda says above, a smile costs nothing.

So, let’s start this plague today.

Shouldn’t we all feel free as birds?

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I am prepping for my annual two day workshop next week in Penn Yan at the Arts Center of Yates County. Below is a post I wrote just before the first workshop. I have to say, after the first four years, they have been both a lot of fun and pretty stressful for me. Every year, I am not sure I can do another one. But I keep coming back, mainly because of the kindness of the folks that come, the many laughs we share, the fact that I think they are taking away some small bits of knowledge, and the hope that they getting more than they expected when they signed up for the workshop. So far, I think that has been the case.

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Why does one not hold on to what one has, like the doctors or engineers; once a thing is discovered or invented they retain the knowledge; in these wretched fine arts all is forgotten, and nothing is kept.

Vincent Van Gogh, Letter to his brother Theo 1888

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When I read this quote from Van Gogh, I flashed back to a conversation I had several years back with an artist friend who was urging me to begin filming my painting process. He said that a deer could jump in front of my car going home from the gallery that night and nobody would ever know how my  paintings came about. He thought would be a loss.

That made me think but I still didn’t follow his advice and protected my process, except for small glimpses here and there, for years like an alchemist greedily withholding their found knowledge. It was one of several reasons for my lack of enthusiasm for teaching.

But time normally changes all things. I began to realize that it was a fool’s mission in keeping my process to myself. The  process was simply a tool for expression– it was not the expression.

An artist often has individual expression that transcends subject, material and technique. For example, an artist painting exactly like me– same trees and process– would produce work that would be different than my own. It would have a different soul, if it had one at all. If this artist’s purpose was mere copying, it would not. I can say this because I’ve seen this before.

So, after a bit, I came to understand that showing or teaching my process would not diminish my work in any way. In fact, I began painting the way that I do because I initially wanted to see paintings that I wasn’t seeing anywhere else. Wouldn’t it be great to spur that same thing in others?

To that end, as I announced earlier, I am teaching my first two day workshop,  September 17 & 18 [2015],  at the Arts Center of Yates County in Penn Yan, NY.  It’s a lovely town sitting at the end of scenic Keuka Lake, one of the Finger Lakes, famed for their beautiful vistas and multitude of wineries.

I am pretty excited about this and am starting to put together just how I want to teach this. I don’t want to spend any more energy hiding my process and I plan to fill each of the two days with as much info as I can get across while still making it entertaining and educational. So if you want to spend a couple of late summer days in a beautiful setting learning a form of expression that might spur other good things for you, contact the Arts Center of Yates County.

Hope to see you there.

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Klee/Art as Memory

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All art is a memory of age-old things, dark things, whose fragments live on in the artist.

Paul Klee

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When I need something to get me through periods of stress, something that engages me and makes me question myself while at the same time inspiring me, nothing serves me better than a dose of Paul Klee.

In his work I definitely feel like I am looking at the age-old memories of the artist. In fact, the attraction comes in the fact that I see his age-old memories and dark things as being my own.

A sense of familiarity.

Like being in an alien world and hearing a familiar language from some distance away. Words and phrases, bits of meaning, gleaned from a cacophony of unintelligible garble. It makes you alert and hopeful that there is a possibility of connection, of communication.

I can use a little Klee this morning.

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GC Myers  1994 Early Work Illustrative Styling

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To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.

~Henri Bergson

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If you have read this blog for some time, you probably have noticed that I periodically like to revisit old work, especially those early pieces from when I was still in the process of finding voice. It’s an interesting period for me to look at because the changes were coming fast, sometimes on what seemed to be a daily basis, as new things were tried, some sparking new directions and some being quickly set aside.

It was a much different set of circumstances than the way I currently work. It was a period of fast and furious fireworks, little pops and crackles with every step forward where today it is quieter for periods of time followed by louder booms. I don’t know if I can explain that any better and am pretty sure it means nothing to anyone but that is the nature of this whole endeavor– trying to make sense of something inexplicable.

I was looking at some early pieces and stopped on this one at the top for a bit, looking at it closely for the first time in many years. It’s from around 1994 and was at a point where I was still trying to figure out things. It was very illustrative– I could see it being used in a kid’s book– but there were things I took from it. The treatment of the sky, for instance, presaged the way my process evolved. It’s a pleasant little piece but it is far from where I wanted to be and even back then I knew it when I finished it then set it aside. It was not an emotional carrier for me at the time and that was what I was seeking.

The piece below, Into the Valley, was from around six or seven months later, in early 1995, and shows the changes that were taking hold in my work.  It is simpler in construction yet seems to say more for me, seems to have some more fundamental thought and feeling in it. GC Myers Into the Valley 1995

I usually take something from these little visits back in time. The changes become more evident as the style matures then levels off, becoming a bit more subtle, less drastic but more confident. But always changing, always recreating itself as it matures.

Or so I hope…

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Idleness/Klimt

Gustav Klimt- Farm Garden with Crucifix

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Even when I am being idle, I have plenty of food for thought, both early and late – thoughts both about and not about art.

–Gustav Klimt

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I am in the midst of a slightly lazy period, as far as my work is concerned. I am not spending as much time in front of an easel or at my big painting table as I would like. Not getting much done at all which eats at the part of me that worries about productivity, that part that knows there are only so many days and hours remaining in my creative life so to waste even one day or a handful of hours means they are lost forever.

But the idle part of me doesn’t care about that. It wants to focus on other things for a bit. Wants to watch the news on the tv too often. Wants to read history or revisit artist books that have been unopened for too long. Strum the guitar. Want to stare out the window and pet my Hobie cat.

It all seems like simple laziness from a distance, even to myself, the lazy one in this picture. But I know from experience that it’s a necessary idleness, a time to recharge my creative batteries, to explore new (and misplaced older) ideas and form new tracks of thought.

And, like Klimt points out, not all these thoughts are concerning art. But because they become part of who one is, these thoughts eventually do  show up in the art in some way. Art is a product of the mind so any changes to how the artist perceives their world changes their art.

Oh, man, I am wiped out after writing that. I have to go now because there are things to not get done. Have yourself a lazy day, folks.

Gustav Klimt- Church in Cassone

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Romare Bearden – Vampin’ ( Piney Brown Blues)

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The artist confronts chaos. The whole thing of art is, how do you organize chaos?

–Romare Bearden

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I think the beginning of this quote from the late artist Romare Bearden (1911-1988) is an important statement and observation.

The artist confronts chaos.

That really speaks to me. It better defines a bit the purpose and necessity of art, both in a general and personal sense.

Maybe the purpose of art is to bring clarity and order to the world that confronts us, to illuminate the hidden or overlooked elements of our existence.

I don’t know for sure but these few words and my own experience make me believe it to be so.

For me, art is a way of distilling the torrent of information and sensations that flow through each of us every day down to a single manageable expression. An expression that helps me better understand and tolerate the chaos before me.

For me, it usually boils down to familiar forms and expressive colors. Found order and harmony above the chaotic rhythm of the texture below.

Like hearing a language you don’t really know but seem to somehow understand and trying to translate it to others.

It is different for every artist, no doubt. The idea of organizing chaos might seem totally foreign to some. I can’t say for sure what drives every artist or what purpose they derive from their art.

I can only speak for myself. That, in itself, might be a valid definition for art.

To that, I answer with my mantra: I don’t know.

And that is undoubtedly the driving force behind art.

Here’s  Big Joe Turner and his Piney Brown Blues, the song that Romare Bearden references in the monotype at the top of he page. Have a good day.

 

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