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Archive for the ‘Technique/History’ Category

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end

Homer, The Odyssey

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Last week I showed a painting in an early stage.  It’s composition was all blocked in with red oxide and the sky was partially laid in. I wrote about the decisions that were in front of me and how I was seeing how it might go from that point on.

Well, at the top of this page is the nearly finished painting, one that I am calling Dawn Invocation. At that earlier point I thought that this painting might go in a much different direction, one slightly darker in tone.

It turns out that my vision for it and the final product differed a bit. That’s not a judgment on how I am feeling about this piece because I find myself very pleased with this painting in its present state. It was just a matter of the process leading me to add a bit more light and color, even though the colors are a bit more muted and tonal than my typical choices.

The resulting piece is more open and inviting than the one I originally saw in the underpainting. Calmer. More resolved.

There are still a few touches that need to be placed, some that I see just now as I write this. They are small adjustments but sometimes these little strokes here and there add much more to the overall feel of the painting than you might think.

So, it goes back on the easel for a short time. This is one of those pieces that carry a lot of small lessons as I move forward which makes it memorable for me, well beyond my own affinity for the painting itself.

And that’s a good thing on any day.

 

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I have been busy in the studio preparing for my upcoming shows and find myself working on a new piece on a canvas measuring 16″ high by 40″ wide.

After the canvas has been prepped with multiple layers of gesso and a layer of black paint, I compose the painting by laying in the elements of the picture in red oxide paint.

This is my favorite part of the process, the time when I can just let my mind fall into the picture and roll around all the possibilities that it offers. Every stroke is a decision and most are made instinctively, letting the surrounding elements and the underlying texture dictate the next move.

As the piece progresses, the painting takes on its personality in a warm glow of varying reddish tones. At this point I decide where I want to place the focus for the painting.  Here I want it to be all about the sky. Painting the sky at this point is not always the norm. Sometimes I go to work on the landscape first, letting it tell me how I will treat the sky. But on this piece the sky comes first, so I begin to lay in colors radiating from around the sun. Or moon. Nothing is really set in stone- or paint-at this point.

As the sky progresses , I veer off momentarily to lay in a little color on the houses and the flat fields that occupy the middle of the painting. I am now at a point where I still have work to do on the sky but the painting is beginning to speak plainly to me.  I know what it is and have a fairly good idea of where it can go. I say fairly good because there is still a lot of decisions that will affect the final version. The colors of the landscape, for example, and their intensity and tones.

I am almost always at my most deepest level of infatuation with the piece when I am at this point in the process.  The moodiness of the red tones have a shadowy effect that pleases me, that makes the sky contrast a bit more than it may after the colors of the landscape are added.  I find myself asking this morning if I should forgo the colors I normally add and focus on creating a tonal composition based on the red oxide. It would be a darker piece than my normal work but if it works as I hope it might, it would carry that feeling that always hooks me as I am working.

So this morning I am sitting here looking over at the easel and deciding if I will spend the day in bright color or in shades of russet.

I like a job where that might be the hardest decision that must be made today…

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dscn0027sm

Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going and the next thing I know I’m borrowing energy from the ideas themselves.

Ray Bradbury

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Yesterday I wrote briefly about the Aboriginal art of Australia, work that really stirs me up in a lot of ways. As I was looking at the Aboriginal paintings while writing the blog, different ideas for my own work were running through my mind. There was a rhythm and a pattern that kept biting at me and by the time I got to my own painting I had a sense of what I was hoping to see, as far as forms. The color would evolve as the painting moved along through the process.

Using a 12″ by 36″ piece of masonite prepped with gesso and a layer of black paint, I began and moved quickly.  Like late author Ray Bradbury said in the quote above, the idea was creating its own energy and I was feeding off it. At these times, the painting is absolutely effortless.  As the painting is finally all blocked in,  begin to see the final finished version come to form in my mind.

Layer after layer of color are applied quickly, each layer slightly altering the overall feeling of the piece and moving it by steps closer to what I am now seeing concretely in my mind. After a final pass through, I stop and feel satisfied.  That’s what you are seeing at the top of the page.  I am satisfied in the moment but am still spending time taking it.

Sometimes when I paint like this, the energy from the actual act of painting hangs with me for a while.  I have learned that I need to give these pieces a little more time so that I can see them without the influence of the energy created in the process.  Sometimes after a bit I might see that some colors need to be deepened or brightened in order to move the energy in the painting.

Looking at the piece now I can see the synthesis from the work I was looking at yesterday morning into the finished piece above. I took in the shapes, colors, rhythms, and patterns of that work and tried to translate it into my own visual voice without imitating or copying it in any way.  It is more about appropriating the energy and rhythm of that work.

Now without the context of yesterday’s blog, you might look at this piece and simply see my work.  But artists are, at their core, synthesizers that constantly take in information and imagery and sounds and movements then shape them into a unique form that fits the vision they have for the world. This is one very basic and direct example of that synthesization of influence.

So, gotta run– there’s some synthesizing to be done!

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I thought I’d share a post from several years back where I showed a painting at several stages in its progress.  It was finally titled Game of Life and remains a favorite of mine.  Below is the blog entry that was based on the beginning of he process.  At the bottom are several photos that show it in progress.

gc-myers-feb-2013-1

This is a new piece that I started over the weekend.  It’s a fairly large canvas, 24″ by 48″, gessoed and blackened before I began to lay out the composition in the red oxide that I favor for the underpainting. I went into this painting  with only one idea, that it have a mass of houses on  a small hilltop. That is where I began making marks, building a small group of blocky structures in a soft pyramid. A little hilltop village. From there, it went off on its own, moving down the hill until a river emerged from the black. An hour or two later and the river is the end of a chain of lakes with a bridge crossing it. We’ll see where and what it is when  it finally settles.

I like this part of the process, this laying out of the composition. It’s all about potential and problem-solving, keeping everything, all the elements that are introduced, in rhythm and in balance. One mark on the canvas changes the possibility for the next. Sometimes that possibility is limited by that mark, that brush of paint. There is only one thing that can be done next. But sometimes it opens up windows of potential that seemed hidden before that brushstroke hit the surface. It’s like that infinitesimal moment before the bat hits the pinata and all that is inside it is only potential. That brushstroke is the bat sometimes and when it strikes the canvas, you never know what will burst from the rich interior of the pinata, which which is the surface of the canvas here. You hope the treats fall your way.

One of the things I thought about as I painted was the idea of keeping everything in balance. Balancing color and rhythm and compositional weight, among many other things, so that in the end something coherent and cohesive emerges. It’s how I view the process of my painting. Over the years, keeping this balance becomes easier, like any action that is practiced with such great regularity. So much so that we totally avoid problems and when we begin to encounter one, we always tend to go with the tried and true, those ways of doing things that are safest and most predictable in their results.

It’s actually a great and safe way to live. But as a painter who came to it as a form of seeking, it’s the beginning of the end. And as I painted, I realized that many of my biggest jumps as an artist came because I had allowed myself at times to be knocked off balance. It’s when you’re off balance that the creativity of your problem-solving skills are pushed and innovation occurs.

It brings to mind a quote from Helen Frankenthaler that I used in a blogpost called Change and Breakthrough from a few years back:  “There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about. ”  

 You must be willing to go outside your comfort zone, be willing to crash and burn. Without this willingness to fail, the work becomes stagnant and lifeless, all the excitement taken from the process. And it’s that excitement  in the studio that I often speak of  that keeps me going, that keeps the work alive and vitalized.

It’s a simple thing but sometimes, after years of doing this, it slips your mind and the simple act of reminding yourself of the importance of willingly going off balance is all you need to rekindle the fire.

This is a lot to ponder at 5:30 in the morning. We’ll see what this brings in the near future.  Stay tuned…

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GC Myers- A New Mantra 2001

One of the galleries representing my work contacted me this weekend asking for some info about some paintings that had been sold there many years ago.  In doing the research for the info, I had to scan through some old slides and early digital images of work from that time.  The painting above just stopped me in my tracks, as it has several times in the past.  All I could think is that I would love to see where this painting is now.   It’s a very large piece and it would be interesting to see how it feels in its environment.  

I had forgot that I had written about this painting five years ago and found that the post spoke about a question that oddly didn’t arise at Saturday’s Gallery Talk.  I thought it would be interesting to share that earlier post:

I came across this painting from 2001 just this morning, one that had slipped off my radar some time ago.  It wasn’t in the studio for long and sold very quickly so I didn’t get to ponder over it for an extended period.  It is titled A New Mantra and  is 31″ high by 51″ oil painting wide on mounted paper.

I do remember painting this piece and how it hit every goal I had for it from the first moment I started on it.  It came so  easily that it felt as though it truly fell out of me, with not  a bit of struggle at any point.  I also remember just being extremely pleased with how this showed in its final state.  It was large and airy yet it had a real up close presence.  To me, it was how it must feel to have the secrets of the universe whispered mysteriously in your ear.

It just felt powerful, whiich is probably why I was so surprised at seeing it again this morning.  How had it slipped out of my mind when it immediately rekindled such strong feelings upon seeing it again?

I don’t know that there is any real explanation.  I know there are other pieces out there that will do the same for me, including many paintings from the earlier years when my photo-documentation wasn’t as thorough.

I can think of one painting that I have often used in Gallery Talks as an example in an account of how some work flows easily while others are a struggle from the first brushstroke.  This particular painting was done after a month of working on a series of paintings that resulted in a commissioned piece.  After delivering that commission,  I went into the studio one morning about 5 AM and a pretty large painting just fell out of me.  I mean that in an almost literal sense.

It was about 40″ square and it was painted without any contemplation or hesitation and with incredible speed. I remember how the paintings of the past month had served as practices or rehearsals for that very moment in time.  Every movement was really from muscle memory, moving without prompting.  The conscious thought process was hushed and in the background.

Two hours later and it was practically done.

I  tell people who asked how long it took to paint a piece that this painting didn’t take 2 hours to paint.  It took over a month and those prior paintings were dress rehearsals of a sort.  It couldn’t have happened without those other pieces building up to it.

To my dismay, that is a piece for which I can’t find an image.  But I will keep looking and hopefully, if I find one, I will feel as I did about once again finding A New Mantra.

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Far, Far Away

Jupiter From Below-  NASA-JPL-Space Science InstituteThe week after a show’s opening is an odd time for me.  Even though you might think it would be a time to relax and savor the success of the show, it seldom is.  Yes, I do get to let out a deep sigh of relief just to have the task done and to have not fallen on my face. But I am often fatigued from writing and speaking so much about myself and my work.

It’s a fatigue that makes me feel a bit grimy and  greasy.  I feel like I’m covered with an unpleasant layer of ego sweat that can’t be washed away.  It has to fade away slowly.

I’ve always viewed the work of self-promotion as simply being a necessary aspect of the job of being an independent artist.  In simplest terms, I am basically a small business that produces a product and every small business must promote their product or they will not stay in business for very long.  So I do what I can to promote the work, writing about and pushing the paintings out into the world of social media to raise the profile of my product.

But when the product is  the art which is at its core you and your internal self, there is a sense that you are selling your very being.  That ups the stakes a bit because to not succeed feels like a diminishing of yourself.  It feels as though it is not just the art that is or is not being embraced, it is you.

You try to keep that view at bay, to keep the self and the art separate, but when you are putting so much of yourself into the work it is a hard thing to do.

So you either embrace the task as a necessary evil and forge ahead, risking the rejection of work and yourself by the public or you avoid it altogether.  But avoiding it is like avoiding exercise– you know it’s good for you but it is so much easier to skip it and make excuses for why your time is better spent doing just about anything else.  No sweating and no effort required.

I choose to do this work and part of that is accepting that grimy ego sweat and the fatigue from always pushing my product and myself.  But like anything that you do over and over again, you come to know that feeling and realize that eventually the effort yields positive results.

That’s where I am today– sweaty and tired.  But the feeling will fade and I will soon be ready to go at it again with all the effort I can muster.

But until then I am letting my mind wander and I find myself far away.  In this case, I find myself completely intrigued by this image from NASA that captures Jupiter in a stereographic image taken from below its South Pole.  I’ve looked at this image about a dozen times over the past couple of days and I find myself mesmerized by it.  It is just about as far away as I can get and it cools the ego sweat in a most wonderful way.

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GC Myers- An Inner Warmth smIt’s been a warm summer.  I guess for some of us that’s an understatement.  The mowed lawns are burned to the color of Shredded Wheat and ponds show more and more of their banks as the water levels slowly descend.  There’s a dustiness in the air from the driveway that coats everything and the thickness of the heat has me dreaming of hopefully cooler days ahead in the fall and winter.

In that vein, I thought I’d show another piece from my show that opens this coming Friday, July 22, at the West End Gallery in Corning.  Titled An Inner Warmth, it’s 10″ by 16″ on paper and feature cooler color tones yet has a warmth to it that is pleasant to me.  It’s a painting that points very much back to my earlier work in the way it is composed of distinct upper and lower blocks of color divided by an unpainted line.

The interplay of those blocks of colors is what carries the weight of the painting for me, carrying its message and meaning.  The details of the trees and the path in the foreground add a narrative element but the colors tell the story here.  The red of the tree seems even warmer here set against the cooler tones.

For this Sunday Morning Music, I thought I’d play a version of one of the songs from the great American songbook, Summertime from George and Ira Gershwin, taken from their opera Porgy and Bess.  It has been covered by so many people and there are so many wonderful versions out there from which to choose.  You’ve got the operatic versions from the likes of Kathleen Battle and Renee Fleming,  jazzier versions from Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn,  rockier versions from Janis Joplin and Sting and countrified ones from Doc Watson and Willie Nelson.  And that is only a tiny sampling.  And almost all of them are absolutely outstanding which I thinks speaks to the strength of the composition.

I chose this version from Norah Jones just because I like it’s coolness.  This is a duet between her and the late jazz piano legend Marian McPartland.  It’s a lovely version and gives a cooler feel to these hot days.

Have a great day…

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