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“Our worst misfortunes never happen, and most miseries lie in anticipation.”

― Honoré de Balzac

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This quote from Balzac has been paraphrased and changed over the years by others to the more tidy phrase: Our worst fears lie in anticipation.

I usually don’t agree when writer’s words are changed or used to express something decidedly different from their original intention. But maybe speakers over the years have decided that our worst misfortunes sometimes do happen.

Balzac died in 1850, years before the horrors of the American Civil War, World War I and WW II, which carries its own separate list of atrocities that easily live up to the expectations of being our worst misfortunes. We have witnessed concentration camps, the slaughter of innocents in attempted genocides on several continents, extreme racial and ethnic hatred and so many other black blotches on our collective history.

And I am most likely skimming over a multitude of other examples, such as the 1918 Flu Pandemic.

Yeah, in the 170 years since Balzac’s death, we have seen ample evidence that our worst misfortunes do indeed happen.

But even so, there is truth in saying that most miseries lie in anticipation. Because for all the evidence we have of our ability to inflict the worst on each other, most times we come out on the other side without seeing the worst come to fruition.

That brings me to the new painting at the top of the page, an 18″ by 24″ canvas that is part of my upcoming solo show, From a Distance, that opens next week at the West End Gallery. The title of this piece is The Anticipation.

A lot of the work from this show is a result of my reaction to these times but this painting might best sum that feeling of queasiness and dull fear that comes in waiting for the next shoe to drop. It seems to be its own separate symptom of the pandemic, one that even those who are not yet infected experience.

It’s that feeling that you know there is a beginning and an end and, that even while we are in the midst of this thing, it will someday be over and in the past. That is the light at the end of tunnel. But you know you have to go through the rest of that tunnel, have to absorb all the worst it has to offer, in order to get to that endpoint.

So, you trudge and trudge, each step filled with a dark foreboding anticipation. In every dark shadow along your way you see a new imagined demon, one that threatens you with some awful painful fate. The light barely seems to get closer with each day’s journey and your fears grow with your uncertainty as to when– or if– you will finally emerge from the darkness.

The fear of what might happen eclipses your imaginings of hope.

That sounds dire. But remember, even with our rampant thoughts of the worst that could happen, we are still moving forward toward the light in the future and our actions as we move along can diminish or even eradicate those imagined worst outcomes.

In the waiting, our imagination may only see the worst but perhaps it is so we can act to avoid it ever coming to be.

That’s what I am seeing in this painting. There is foreboding but there is the possibility of hope in our own reaction.

So, while our worst misfortunes do sometimes happen, we do not have to willingly accept them as our fate. We have the opportunity to stand against them, to infuse light into the darkness that comes in our anticipation.

Here’s to that light…

 

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I want to be, all of a sudden
Every wave and undertow
I want to float
Everywhere I go

Lisa Hannigan, Undertow

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I debated yesterday over playing the song I eventually chose, Push the Sky Away from Nick Cave, or a song from Lisa Hannigan, Undertow. It was a tough choice. Hannigan’s Undertow features some beautifully delicate vocals that have a haunting quality.

Both songs actually have that haunting quality and both stayed with me all day while I worked.

So, since I am still very busy with prep work for the West End Gallery show, I thought I’d play Undertow this morning, as a kind of Sunday Morning Music addenda.

The painting at the top, In a Warm Breeze, is from the West End show. It has a nautical theme which I guess links it in a way to the song. But it also has a calm and quiet way about it while still having a layer of passion, of desire, in its undercurrent.

As its undertow, I guess. Whatever the case, it’s a piece that I like very much, one that gives me a sense of peacefulness that I really appreciate these days.

Give a listen to Lisa Hannigan and her Undertow, recorded in May at the National Gallery of Ireland. Have a good and hopefully calm day.

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But I know that nothing which truly concerns man is calculable, weighable, measurable. True distance is not the concern of the eye; it is granted only to the spirit.

–Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Airman’s Odyssey

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I stumbled across the line’s above in a beautiful passage from a book, Airman’s Odyssey, from Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  He was an author/poet best known for his classic The Little Prince as well as a pioneering aviator. He died in 1944, while flying for the Free French Air Force in World War II.

In this passage de Saint-Exupery writes about how flying at high altitudes, landmarks on the ground become mere dots and all sense of distance fades away, is lost. He describes how in his blindness to those places, those dots lost in the distance, his thirst for feelings and sensations attached to those dots grows.

Those barely visible dots become much like smells and sounds and other sensations that reawaken memories and new tracks of thought in the imagination. It is in this vast expanse of nothingness that he realizes that everything that we seek is not to be found by moving across wide physical distances but by simply  spanning the distances within ourselves.

As I said, it’s a beautiful passage and it goes well beyond what I describe here. But for my purposes I am focusing on this part of the passage, that we often seek things in the distance that we desire when what we really need has already crossed all distances and, in fact, dwells within us.

We always see the dots in the distance and can easily attach great and better things to those dots. But while doing so, we often overlook the fact that we have those same things at hand right now.

We so often desire what we already have.

The recent isolation brought on by the pandemic here has created a sense of distance in many of us. That’s understandable. It has kept us away from many people, places and events, those things that have normally made up our day to day lives. But they now are dots to us and we long to cross that distance to return to that time and place.

For many, this desire to cross that distance has been consuming. But for some, looking inward has diminished that desire and they have found that they can find what they need where they are in the moment. The dot is just a dot now.

I think this idea that we have what we need, that we are equipped to survive and even thrive despite the distances imposed upon us, might be the theme for my upcoming solo show that opens on July 17 at the West End Gallery. The show is titled From a Distance as is the painting here at the top, a 30″ by 48″ canvas.

I can easily see this theme play out in this painting. Wherever we are, in any time and situation, we have the ability to find forms of beauty within and around ourselves. That is an important thing to remember, especially when we find ourselves staring at those dots in the distance.

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Let’s go fly a kite
Up to the highest height!
Let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring
Up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear
Oh, let’s go fly a kite!

–Let’s Go Fly a Kite, Richard and Robert Sherman

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I thought it might be time start showing some work from my upcoming solo show, From a Distance, that opens July 15 at the West End Gallery in Corning. There are definitely different takes on a variety of themes in this show so deciding which piece should kick off the process was tough. But given the many current events– or should I say disasters?– taking place in this country, I thought the painting here at the top would be a gentle starter.

The idea of flying a kite seems so much more preferable than going into the closet and screaming into the darkness.

The title of this piece is Let’s Go Fly a Kite, borrowed, of course, from the song of that name from the 1964 Walt Disney film, Mary Poppins. It’s a wonderful song that aptly captures the idea of putting aside your problems and releasing yourself to soar with your kite high above and far removed from worldly problems. I hope that is what one gets from this piece, whose image is sized at 10″ by 16″ and framed and matted at 16″ by 22″.

I never saw Mary Poppins as a kid nor did I read the books. I came to both in middle age, actually. But even so, the magic of both remained intact.  a few years back I came across a large single volume that contained all of author  P.L. TraversMary Poppins books and decided that it might be worth reading. I am glad I did. It was funny and touching and engaging on many levels. Just a great read. Made me regret not being interested in them as a kid.

I thought I would share the song here but decided to not show the one from the film. Instead, I am taking the version from another Disney film, Saving Mr. Banks. This film, starring Emma Thompson as author P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, is the story of how Disney wooed the crusty Travers who was dead set against him making her book into a movie. She steadfastly opposed every and any change to her baby and thought the idea of a Disney musical treatment of her story was beyond the pale.

This version comes at a point in the Saving Mr. Banks film where she is near making a decision to withhold the filming rights from Disney. She is called into the work studio of the Sherman Brothers, the legendary songwriting team that wrote  many of the best known Disney tunes along with scores of other songs for other artists. Up to this point, Travers has been disdainful of their work that they have previously presented her for the film and in a final attempt to sway her, they perform the song Let’s Go Fly a Kite for her.

It’s a lovely turning point in the film and a nice version of the song as well. So, for a while at least, put aside thoughts of pandemics, of racial divides, of a treasonous and derelict president and all the other horrors that come as part and parcel of the current apocalypse, and think about the giddy thrill of watching your kite take to the air.

Soar with it for a bit. Or a little longer, if need be.

 

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“The Exile’s Wilderness”- Now at the Principle Gallery

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“From the moment that man believes neither in God nor in immortal life, he becomes ‘responsible for everything alive, for everything that, born of suffering, is condemned to suffer from life.’ It is he, and he alone, who must discover law and order. Then the time of exile begins, the endless search for justification, the aimless nostalgia, ‘the most painful, the most heartbreaking question, that of the heart which asks itself: where can I feel at home?”

Albert Camus, The Rebel

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I came across the excerpt above from The Rebel from Albert Camus while searching for something to accompany the painting at the top, The Exile’s Wilderness, which is part of my current exhibit hanging at the Principle Gallery.

This short paragraph stopped me in my tracks and I found myself reading the words and phrasing of it over and over again this morning. It summed up so well the feeling that I take from this painting and that sense of exile, of separateness, that I have often experienced.

The search for justification, the sometimes pointless nostalgia of memory, the feeling of being responsible for everything alive and for setting things in some sort of order– they all feel too familiar.

But it’s that final question that stirred me most: Where can I feel at home?

It is a heartbreaking question. I believe most of us take for granted that feeling of comfort and of being at home. But for the Exile it is an elusive thing, perhaps even an impossibility. In the absence of the real comfort of home they settle for the security found in hiding or in blending in, hiding in plain sight with large and faceless crowds.

That’s the wilderness to which I refer in this painting– a place for the Exile to hide and find security in a world where they may never feel truly at home.

And odd as this may sound, there is great comfort in this. Just having a place where one feels safe and secure is a desirable state of being for most of us because in such an environment we can create and define our own sense of home.

If you think about many of the problems facing us today, most come down to conflicts between people rightly seeking that sense of home, of safety and security, for themselves and those who would deny them that right.

There’s a lot to read into this painting, more than it lets on at first glance. Much like the Exile walking unseen and unnoticed among the crowd.

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GC Myers- Shelter in Place 2020

My annual solo show of new works opens today at the Principle Gallery in Old Town Alexandria. This year’s show, my 21st there, is titled Social Distancing which very well describes the distance between me sitting in my studio this morning and the show hanging in the gallery down in Virginia. Now, that’s real social distancing.

It feels disconnected and strange to not be at an opening tonight and still be writing about it from the studio. But we are in the strangest days of recent times so I guess it’s only fitting that any event, particularly one titled Social Distancing, is not spared.

I think the duality of this idea– work about separation that seeks connection– is right in line with the message of much of my work throughout the years. The work has always focused on the distances of our world while still seeking to find closeness and connection.

Home, as it might be called.

Though I still haven’t yet seen the work on the walls of the gallery, I feel that this is a strong group. Strange times often bring out certain strengths and aspects of people. And art, at its best, reflects humanity. I believe this group is reflective of that.

I think it is authentic and human. Joyfully imperfect.

I hope you get a chance to get into the Principle Gallery to see Social Distancing. For those of you who can’t make it there, below is the catalog for the show. Thanks!

Be safe and have a great day.

 

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“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”

Herman Melville

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Social Distancing, this year’s edition of my annual show of new work, along with some vintage pieces this year, opens tomorrow at the Principle Gallery. It’s in the gallery now and I am enclosing a video slideshow below that previews the show.

As I wrote here recently, this was a tough show to put together, much more difficult than in past years, with plenty of distractions and setbacks. And I think the fact that this was such a hard fought show makes it even more gratifying to see the work in it together as a show.

I think it is the diversity of this show, with its many elements and styles along with the thread of continuity that runs from the early work up to the most recent, that best reflects the multitude of emotional bursts that have marked us a nation in the recent past. Mirroring the highs and lows we are experiencing, there is work that seems darker and foreboding alongside work that is placidly strong and forward looking with hope.

The title, Social Distancing, is definitely a product of this time, an admonition to keep ourselves safe by keeping people away at arms length. Well, maybe not just arms length but six feet, at least. The power of that phrase though is striking because it has pointed out in real terms how much we actually need real human connection to navigate through this world. I would like to think that much of the work in this show displays both the effect of the distance that we are enduring along with the sense of connection we struggle to find in this world. Hopefully, many of us have come to realize that, like the words of Melville at the top, we have a thousand fibers connecting us and that our actions fan out from us, having effects that touch many.

I guess it could be said that even though we might be socially distanced, we can remain spiritually connected. We can still affect others, hopefully in positive ways. Maybe that’s the message I want someone to take from this exhibit.

Maybe not. Hopefully, you will see it in your own way. Those unique interpretations only deepen my gratification.

Here’s the preview. Have a good day.

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I am a child of America.

I was raised believing in the promise of America.

Land of opportunity. Land of second chances.

Rags to riches. Log cabin to the White House.

The land of the free and the home of the brave.

Equal rights for all and all are welcome.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…

The Melting Pot, where our great diversity of cultures, beliefs and ideas are a source of strength.

Shining city on the hill. The beacon of hope for the rest of the world.

The Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all…

One for all, all for one.

I was this child for many years. I held on to these ideals, these beliefs, with the hope that the promise of America would someday be fulfilled. That hope has sometimes felt within our reach as a nation.

But this morning, I am a child no more.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Yesterday, we witnessed things we never thought we would see in this country. People who were expressing their freedom of speech in a most peaceful and lawful way outside the white house were set upon by mounted police and pelted with rubber bullets and tear gas. The Secretary of Defense spoke in terms of the need for the military to dominate the battlespace when speaking about our citizens and the president*** later authorized use of that military force against our own people.

I have written here about the dangers many people saw in this presidency from long before the election of 2016. I have often worried it was all too hyperbolic, that I was misinterpreting the signs I was seeing and was simply wrong. I can admit to having been wrong in the past so I always have a bit of uncertainty even when what I am seeing seems clear in my mind.

But, yesterday was the culmination, the proof that the warnings that so many of us had been issuing over the past four plus years were not mere hand-wringing.

The threat to our democracy and freedom is real.

We are nearing that point where we will not be able to ever fulfill the promise of America. That point where we are only America in name only.

If you think this is a time to just be quiet, to try to ignore what is happening not pick a side, you are making the wrong choice. And make no mistake, silence is a choice here, one that puts you firmly on the side of those who are trying to steer this country into some sort of military dictatorship.

At this moment, silence is the ally of brutality and oppression.

Silence authorizes atrocity. It has been this way throughout history and we are at a critical crossroads in history.

Will you remain silent?

Believe me when I say that I do not relish writing this post this morning. I know that I am a simple artist, a person who smears paint on surfaces for the enjoyment of others. You most likely come here– especially if you have read this far– for a diversion from the world, a break from the sheer hardness of it.

This week I am normally trying to stir interest in my work for my show that opens this Friday at the Principle Gallery. So writing this is a bit of a tight rope act for me, trying to balance my own self interests with the need to speak up about what is happening in this land right now.

I guess I could at least talk about the painting at the top, The Durable Will, from the show. There is, after all, a certain relevance between what I see in it and the current situation. This is certainly a painting that, for me, speaks to ideals. It is about strength and endurance, about weathering all that comes while still maintaining an air of grace and beauty.

It might well serve as a symbol of what I desire for this country. That we stand up, speak the needed truth, take the blows and endure. That we grow into a better future based in grace and beauty.

Part of that child still resides in me.

And I am glad for that this morning, on a day when I am filled with darkness.

So, for those of you who believe I should just be quiet or that you just want to ignore the situation and remain silent, I leave you with the words of the great abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, a man who definitely refused to turn a blind eye to injustice or remain silent:

“I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.”

 

 

 

 

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Aah, the work was delivered to the Principle Gallery yesterday for the show, Social Distancing, that opens this coming Friday, June 5, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria.

I say aah because there is always a sense of relief once the work has left my hands and is in the gallery. I’ve done what I can and it’s out of my hands.

But the aah this year might be even larger than in any other year. Completing this year’s show was hard fought struggle within myself. The number of distractions was huge as you all know. It has been a trying time for all of us between an impeachment, a pandemic that has delivered over 100 thousand deaths thus far not to mention vast job losses and an economic uncertainty that most certainly see us in a recession, if a depression, for the coming years along with the violent eruption of a long simmering volcano of unequal justice and economic opportunity for people of color. Factor into that a money grab by the wealthiest among us from the pandemic relief funds and you have a hot and messy stew cooking.

This might well be a year without parallel in the memories of most of us and maybe in the history of this country. We are a nation at great stress right now.

So to get my little bit of business out of the way, to be able to push all this aside and do work that was strong and meaningful in my own eyes was a different sort of task than in any of the previous 21 years of doing this show. Maybe the show of 2002, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, would be the closest parallel but that at that time we didn’t have a deadly virus or the same sort of raw internal rips in our society that we are experiencing now as a nation. In retrospect, that time seemed like a light appetizer for the heavy meal, that hot and messy stew, on our table at this moment.

But, as far the show, it is there now and I think it’s a damn fine show. I can’t think of a piece in it that that I would want to omit or change. I think every painting in it has its own strength that shows. I hope you will get a chance to get into the gallery to see it or at least take a look at the exhibit document from the Principle Gallery when it’s released in a few days.

I have to say that another bit of relief was the great ease I experienced in the delivery yesterday. In the many, many trips down to Alexandria I have made over the past 23 years, yesterday was by far the easiest ride I have ever made. The traffic was exceedingly light and the weather absolutely perfect. The delivery itself went smoothly and quickly. Every aspect of the day was easy.

I came home, as usual through central Pennsylvania. If you don’t know the area, the route runs above Harrisburg along the Susquehanna River, and is a lovely area with a rural feel marked by the farms and horse-drawn buggies of the many Amish and Mennonite farmers along the way. But it is also a deeply conservative area, a hotbed of far right ideology. Lots of guns, pickups and camo clothing. Lots of evangelical billboards and, strangely,quite a few weird little, windowless porn shops that always seem to have more than a few cars in front of them.

It’s a big Trump area. Yeah, I wrote that name– can taste the ashes in my mouth. Some businesses have it scrawled across the face of their buildings and you see quite a few of his campaign signs . There was even one guy, with a big gut and a tight white tee shirt, selling Trump merchandise by the side of the busy road. No buyers when I passed him, thankfully. But one thing I noticed in a few places were signs in the neighboring yards of those the yards that had Trump signs. The signs simply said “Be Kind” as though these neighbors wanted to somehow counter the meaning that was implicit in the signs of their neighbors.

That small gesture gave me the slightest glimpse of hope.

Coming home, I came through Lewisburg, a town that is best known as the home of Bucknell University. Coming into town after passing Bucknell, I came to traffic light at the intersection of the two main roads running through the area.  At each of the four corners there were quite a few people gathered holding signs and gesturing to the traffic. Coming to a stop at the red light, I realized that it was a Black Lives Matter protest, much like the other protests taking place around the nation.

It was a diverse group with many white faces– this is central PA, after all– but a large number of people of color as well. They were peaceful and wore their masks and kept distance as well as they could. I gave them the thumbs up and many returned the gesture. As I drove away I gave a young black woman the thumbs up and she gave me a clenched fist held high above her head in response.

I can’t tell you how much those small gestures made my day. That group of peaceful protesters in such a conservative part of that state gave me the hope that there might be real change ahead for us as a nation, that we will push past this moment and vanquish the forces of division and inequality that are at work right now.

Maybe that’s what the painting at the top reflects. Part of the show, it’s a 10″ by 20″ canvas that is called And the Clouds Will Pass…

That’s how I want to see it.

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“Find meaning. Distinguish melancholy from sadness. Go out for a walk. It doesn’t have to be a romantic walk in the park, spring at its most spectacular moment, flowers and smells and outstanding poetical imagery smoothly transferring you into another world. It doesn’t have to be a walk during which you’ll have multiple life epiphanies and discover meanings no other brain ever managed to encounter. Do not be afraid of spending quality time by yourself. Find meaning or don’t find meaning but ‘steal’ some time and give it freely and exclusively to your own self. Opt for privacy and solitude. That doesn’t make you antisocial or cause you to reject the rest of the world. But you need to breathe. And you need to be.”

Albert Camus, Notebooks 1951-1959

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It’s probably been forty years since I last read Albert Camus‘ books, The Stranger and The Plague. I remember the affect each had on me at that time and can easily see how these books might have relevance in these times as well. As can the the words of advice above taken from Camus’ notebooks.

“Find meaning. Distinguish melancholy from sadness. Go out for a walk.”

It seems as though an existentialist or absurdist, however one categorizes Camus, would be an appropriate voice for these times.

The painting at the top, Private Space, is going with me down to the Principle Gallery tomorrow when I deliver the work for my annual solo show there. This year’s edition is titled Social Distancing and opens next Friday, June 5.

I chose the words from Camus at the top to accompany this 15″ by 30″ painting because that list bit of it– “Opt for privacy and solitude. That doesn’t make you antisocial or cause you to reject the rest of the world. But you need to breathe. And you need to be” — seemed to express exactly what I was seeing in this painting.

Plus I most often opt for privacy and solitude in my own life and I am pretty sure I am not antisocial.

Well, not completely.

I might be considered cordially antisocial. Perhaps an affable misanthrope? Is that a thing?

I kind of see both of those things in this painting. There’s an approachable element in the Red Tree but also a sense that it wants to be at a distance from others. It doesn’t reject the world but wants to face it on its own terms, in its own way.

I can live with that definition– for this painting and myself.

Have a good day.

 

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