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Archive for the ‘Technique/History’ Category

I’ve got several things on my plate this morning so time is short. Thought I’d rerun the post below because it describes a bit the dark to light process I often use. I also liked this simple painting but, as I write below, I wasn’t sure about it at the time, wasn’t sure it would translate well to others. Time has passed and I still find myself liking this painting. Plus, it quickly found a new home so someone saw something similar in it. Give a look and have a great day.

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“A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black, because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light.”   

-Leonardo Da Vinci

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I’ve been working on a number of pieces lately that start on a black base of paint, rising from the darkness as each subsequent layer adds more and more light. I still think of this additive process as being a form of sculpture, one that starts with a flat surface and builds out in contours that give it definition and texture. Each layer of paint is like adding clay to the supporting armature of the sculpture. It’s a process that is hard to pull away from when I immerse myself in it. There’s something about seeing the colors grow more and more vibrant on the surface that becomes mesmerizing. I guess that’s why I often refer to this work as obsessionism.

This small experiment, a 10″ by 12″ piece on paper, is in this vein. It’s one of those pieces that I’m just not sure about because I like it but I’m not sure if I like it for what it actually is or for the experience, the obsession of the moment in painting it.

Or because it is simply from my own hands, part of myself. Like a parent looking at something their child has done and wondering if they like it because it is truly good or simply because it was done by their child, their flesh and blood.

Sometimes I can finish a piece and it instantly stands apart and on its own, complete and independent. Ready to move on like a young person proclaiming their emancipation from their parents. Other times, there are pieces that cling closer to me, perhaps too attached to yet stand on their own, at least in my eyes. Because I am unsure, I become more protective of these pieces because they do feel more personal, more of me.

It’s a hard thing to describe, this uncertainty in a piece, especially when it feels objectively right. Can a parent ever fully take out their own subjective view of their offspring and see them objectively as they really are?

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I have been looking at this painting quite a bit lately. It’s from back in 2010 and is titled Raise Your Eyes. Featured in my 2012 exhibit at the Fenimore Art Museum, it’s a piece that I find myself coming back to examine quite often.

It’s different in many ways from the larger body of my work. For one thing, there are plenty of windows and doors, things I seldom use in my regular work where I prefer the blank  anonymity of windowless and doorless houses. This painting is all detail, even though its not extremely fine detail.

In some ways it reminds me of my Archaeology series, mainly because there is so many small touches to examine beyond the greater whole. I think that’s why I come back to this painting so often. Every new look reveals something I haven’t noticed since I first painted it. There are so many individual decisions here that dictate how the painting comes together, how it reads and expresses itself. Each window and door, each ledge and building top is a decision. Looking at them closer makes me appreciate the thought process behind it.

I mention  this painting today because I am working on a new piece that is based loosely on it. At least, it goes back to the process behind it and fills the canvas with thousands of small but vital decisions. It’s been exciting to revisit and I like what I have so far. Keep an eye out for it in the near future.

I also thought it might be a good painting to remind you to support your local small businesses on this Small Business Saturday. Every artist and every gallery owner is a small businessperson that rolls much of their income back into their respective local economies. Your patronage of artists and galleries. as well as so many other small local businesses, is vital to your local community.

I know that I can’t do this, can’t maintain a career as an artist without your support. And I am deeply grateful for that support and hope you’ll continue to patronize the galleries that show my or anybody else’s work.

Art is more than decoration, more than a product. It is an expression of humanity and a message that, in its best form, communicates through time. It is who we are.

And that is worth supporting.

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I have a new painting in a show that opens this Friday, November 16, at the the West End Gallery. The name of the show is “Masterpieces: A Collection of Kick*** Artwork” and it focuses on the process of the artist behind each piece. There are photos, studies and writings that document how each piece came to be.

From the work I have seen from the show thus far, it lives up to its name.

My contribution to the show is  48″ high by 24″ wide painting on canvas that I am calling And the Glimmer Comes... It is shown here on the right.

I decided for this show to do the painting for this show using studies and drawings, something I almost never use.

Normally, I start with a surface that is prepared with multiple layers of gesso and, more often than not recently, a top layer of black paint. Then I just begin with a block of color, usually the red oxide that I use for composing my underpainting and usually in the lower half of the composition.

Then I let the painting grow organically, the first block of color guiding me to the second and the second to the third and so on. After the piece is fully composed this way, I build out the colors from darker to lighter tones.

In the very simplest terms, that is my normal process.

Rough Sketch- GC Myers

But for this piece I decided to go with two studies. The first would be a rough sketch that would set out the basic composition of the painting. When I say rough, I mean rough, as you can see. I take only a minute or so to create it as I am only looking for a basic silhouette, a blocked out map to follow with little detail or nuance. It is not meant to be anything on its own, just a bit of shorthand to guide me in the next step.

The next step is the creation of a study, a smaller (24″ by 12″) version of the final larger painting. I followed the sketch with my underpainting and it was pretty much in line. But I have a small problem in making studies which are usually more loosely painted than the final version. My problem is that once I begin painting I treat that piece as a final version. I have spent many years treating every piece I paint as nothing less than a complete painting unto itself, something that is not less or subservient to any other painting in my body of work.

Lightbreak–24″ x 12″ – GC Myers

Once I started working on this “study” I couldn’t help but continue smoothing off the piece, making it whole. It was not a study at all as it quickly evolved into an autonomous painting with its own voice, its own life.  I am showing it as such with the title Lightbreak.

My next step was to transfer this image to the larger canvas. My first move was to block in the house much as it was in the sketch and the smaller version, although I did add an addition and another small roof to it. At this point I  could see new potentials in the open space of the larger canvas as well in the unique texture it possessed. It just begged for and explicitly pointed me to something different from the other pieces.

I immediately changed the composition to add a couple of rolling knolls leading a body of water that would extend to a horizon between two tongues of land that would jut in from either side. It began to speak in its own voice at once and was telling me how to proceed with the sky.

The larger surface created more open space so I opted for an additional underlying layer of clouds that would have a darker tone to contrast with those in the forefront. Doing so created an interestingly shaped negative space comprised of the blue-green color of the sky in its middle, That form became a structural element in this piece.

Building out the colors brought changes as well. The piece of land in the forefront were richer in color and more vibrant, mainly because I felt that the larger space it occupied required a bolder and more pronounced treatment. It acts as a strong foundation in this painting.

The final touches come in creating the glimmer at the horizon. That simple step made the whole of the painting gather together, creating a wonderful geometry between the various elements of the painting. It felt to me like the high note of climax in a dramatic aria.

That is a very condensed version of how the final painting came to be. Whether it lives up to the title of the show is not for me to say. The most I can say is that I feel this painting fits well among what I consider my better work. So maybe in that aspect it lives up to the show’s title.

Come out to the West End Gallery and see for yourself.

 

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I had a dream a week or so back.

It wasn’t particularly odd. I didn’t feel like I was somehow out of place and didn’t recognize my surroundings. I had no strange abilities. No, it all seemed very normal. In fact, I was still a painter in this dream.

The gist of the dream was that I feeling a bit down about my work. Then out of the blue I received a phone call from a person identifying themselves as the editor of a large national magazine who wanted to do a story on my work. I was excited in the dream, as would be expected.

The dream ended with me asking what this magazine was that so wanted to do a big story on my work.

The voice on the other end replied, “Finger Painting Magazine.”

I woke up at that point and I began chuckling in the darkness.

My big break!

Womp womp.

I thought about that dream again yesterday. It still made me chuckle but I thought maybe I should try painting without a brush, using only my fingers, at least once. Maybe there is something to this finger painting stuff.

So I grabbed a canvas and got at it. I decided that I should keep it simple while I work on my strokes so I went with my most basic of compositions. Sky. Ground. Path. Red Roof.

Using only my fingers definitely gave it an immediacy and excitement. The piece changed quickly with a smear here and a daub there. The quickness of the process seemed to require more boldness. I used a couple of higher toned colors in more prominent roles than I normally would when using a brush. And I think it worked in this piece.

I began to realize that my hand was a combination of many brushes. Each finger had its own size and quality so there five brushes right there. Putting two or three fingers together made a couple more. And my palm was a broad brush as well.

Actually, as I got toward the finish of the painting I began to realize it didn’t look much different than my normal work. A little more ragged on the straight edges but that is not necessarily a bad thing. And it was not as messy as you might think. I actually ended up with less paint on my hands than I normally do when using a brush.

Maybe I have been wasting my time with brushes.

I did a little research this morning. There is no Finger Painting Magazine but there are several painters who use only their fingers. Some are quite striking and one was written about in an article I remember seeing not too long ago. She paints icebergs and other frozen landscapes on a grand scale. Great work.

Maybe there should really be a Finger Painting Magazine.

 

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Last week a notification came up on my Facebook feed of a painting of mine that was being offered for sale locally. It wasn’t the best of photos but I immediate recognized the painting. It was from back in 1999 and was titled Black Opal Night. The price was very reasonable and I immediately contacted the seller, offering to buy the painting back.

In our back and forth, she asked why I was buying this painting back. It seems that artists buying their work back is not a normal thing.

I replied that it was from the years between 1996 and 2000, a five year period that was pre-Red Tree and an evolutionary step to my subsequent work. It was also a time from which I have practically no remaining work and would love to have a few more pieces. I have been very fortunate in that almost all of the work from that time have found new homes. The few that remain with me are pieces that most likely should have never left the studio in the first place. They have major flaws– poor color quality, composition balances that seem off a bit and so on– which I would now consider disqualifying, that would keep me from showing it publicly.

I may have been a little less discerning in earlier times.

This piece, from what I could see in the photo and could glean from my memory of it, didn’t seem to fall into this category.

Another part of wanting to acquire this piece was that my documentation at the time was pre-digital and spotty. I most likely have slides of this piece but the slide itself is most likely poorly shot. And a poorly photographed slide is still a poor image when transferred to a digital format, which is still an iffy process for me. It would be good to see a painting from the time and get proper photos. I have to admit that the photo here was taken through glass so it is not a perfect image. But it works.

So I picked this up over the weekend and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. First, the image itself looked new even though the frame, a blue-green color that I no longer use, was a bit less fresh looking. It was definitely of the time. I could see where I was at the time from a process standpoint, how I was still embracing techniques that are now deep embedded.

I often speak at gallery talks about the 60 or 70 thousand hours spent in the studio over the past two decades. This piece was from the beginning of that time and offered a glimpse of how the work had evolved and changed. This piece was pushing at the edges of my abilities at the time which gives it an excited feel. I can almost feel my excitement in painting it from the time. There are surface flaws that are integral to the energy of this painting that give it a rawness that I think was a big part of the strength of that early work.

That rawness is something I don’t see as much in recent work. Oh, the excitement is still there but the expression of it is more refined, more controlled. And looking at this painting makes me wonder if I am pushing myself enough. Am I staying too far inside the lines? How do I regain that raw energy?

And maybe the answers to these questions are the real reasons for me re-acquiring this painting. Even though it’s simply an older painting in my body of work, it has given me so many things to ponder.

Let’s see where it goes from here.

 

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I was not sure where I was going, and I could not see what I would do when I got there. But you saw further and clearer than I, and you opened the seas before my ship, whose track led me across the waters to a place I had never dreamed of, and which you were even then preparing to be my rescue and my shelter and my home.

― Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

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Well, my annual show at the West End Gallery comes down in just a few days. This year’s edition is called The Rising and Thursday is the last day to see the show.

It is a show in which I feel a real sense of pride. When I am prepping for a show, my goals for it are often vague and undefined. I feel that I want certain things for it and from it but when I try to verbalize these goals, the words evade me. I find myself like the sailor in the Thomas Merton quote above: I was not sure where I was going, and I could not see what I would do when I got there. 

I knew it was going somewhere. I just didn’t know where. I let intuition and reaction guide me and it often worked out fine.

But this show, much like my June show at the Principle Gallery, felt more preordained and focused and less haphazard in it’s final edited version, the one that hit the walls of the galleries. I still allowed for the role of intuition and the unconscious in the process of painting each piece. That is a necessity.

But where I could make conscious decisions, I did just that. I chose to simplify forms and chop out the fussiness of detail. Deepened colors. As much as I like them and appreciate their popularity, I reduced the number of small paintings and went with works that were a bit larger. It streamlined the look of the show on the wall, made it feel less cluttered, and gave each piece a bit more room in which to expand.

They weren’t big things but enough to make the work in the exhibit to be presented with fuller impact. I felt like this and the Principle Gallery show were my most mature and complete exhibits to date.

The response to the show has been great which is gratifying on many levels. A number of the original paintings from the show have flown the coop to their new homes but there are a few replacements that I feel fill the void they leave behind. One new piece is shown above. It’s Star Navigator, a 24″ by 8″ canvas that feels very much like it jibes with the words of Merton at the top.

I hope you can make it out to the West End Gallery in the next few days, if you haven’t had a chance to see The Rising.

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If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

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The painting, Apex, as shown above on the left had been bouncing around galleries for quite a few years. It was one of those pieces that kind of gnawed at me after awhile. There was so much that I liked about it and it felt complete yet I began to feel that something was lacking.

The color bothered me. It looked washed out and pale. Now, I have done pieces with that sort of color and it can be very effective but in this instance the lack of intensity in the colors seemed to handicap the whole painting. The more I looked at it over the years, the more I saw the blue of the sky looking dull and lifeless.

And it felt like the trees on the ascending path were too sparse. I don’t know much about musical composition, can’t tell a quarter note from a half note, but when I looked at the hill with the trees I felt like I was looking at a piece of music and some of the notes were missing. It wasn’t saying what it should be saying.

And the central character, the Red Tree at the top, felt dark and small, not bursting forward as it should, at least in my mind.

The whole thing just felt like it was on life support– barely alive but but with no vigor, no spark.

But it was still alive and there seemed to be something in it that really pulled me in, I decided I needed to intervene, to either reinvent it or completely kill it. So I went in and deepened the colors of the sky and the hill dramatically. This created a nice contrasting tension and made the tree that were added to the upward path stand out more. The Red Tree grew larger, brighter and bolder while the clouds in the sky slimmed a bit.

It was  dramatic transformation. It was like Charles Atlas’ 97-pound weakling transforming, with the aid of his patented Dynamic Tension, into a beefy he-man who takes on the beach bully and gets the girl. I know that last sentence means next to nothing to those of you under the age of fifty but if you ever saw those old magazine ads, you’ll get it. You can click here to go to an old blog entry that shows that ad.

That might be a goofy comparison but as I sit here and look at the transformed painting, it’s hard to imagine that that it once was that old version of itself.

And it all came about thanks to Dynamic Tension. Thanks, Charles Atlas!

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This reinvented painting will be with me at my Gallery Talk at the West End Gallery in Corning this coming Saturday, August 4. The talk begins at 1 PM and it should be a good time. In addition to the great conversation and plenty of prizes, I have also procured a monster truck act– Truckasaurus Rex— as well as a T-shirt cannon.

Okay, maybe that’s not quite accurate. Or true in any sense of the word. You’ll have to come see for yourself. 

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