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Jean Arp- Torso of a Giant 1964

Jean Arp- Torso of a Giant 1964

 

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Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation… tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego. His anxiety subsides. His inhuman void spreads monstrously like a gray vegetation.

–Jean Arp

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GC Myers- Quiescence

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I had a quote on the last post with a quote from artist Jean Arp about man turning his back on silence. Rather than savoring the quiet, he runs from it, instead distracting himself with all manner of noise. Anything to keep him from facing the fears that the quiet represents to him.

It’s a theme that has been large in the background of my work. Early on, when I felt that I wanted to be a writer, I would find myself writing about large open spaces and the caverns of silence that rested in these places. I called it the Big Quiet. Of course, it’s a pretty limited subject and there is a certain redundancy in writing about silence and stillness. I mean, how can you use the noise of words to aptly describe the absence of noise?

So I gave up writing about it and went on with my life, always with an eye out for this Big Quiet. I don’t know that I was craving it or fearing it at most points. My life was pretty much filled with the noise of the world, all the snaps and pops of sound and distraction that creep into every living space. I was like so many others who needed the security blanket of sound to protect them from what they might discover if they were forced to face the silence.

But the sounds that I hoped would lessen my anxiety only seemed to feed it.

However, painting gave me a path to finding this Big Quiet. It was wordless and calm, creating an inner space absent of the sounds of the world that I was and am still occupying. It became a destination, an oasis to turn to when the din of world became too loud, too overbearing. It eased my fears of looking inward and allowed me to savor the quiescence of the brief moments I actually myself there in those scenes of stillness and calm. It became real and necessary to me.

I don’t know where this going, this wordy noise I’m creating about the stillness I find now. I just felt that I should add a bit of context to my work, to give a an understanding of what I hope to take from it for myself. This moment came about from running across the image above, a piece from several years ago that is called, fittingly, Quiescence. It’s a piece that brings me quiet immediately and seeing it at any time makes me again think of the main reason that I paint.

So, I am going to be quiet now…

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The post above is comprised of two posts that ran here on consecutive days back in 2013. They served a great purpose for me this morning when I read them again for the first time in many years which made me think they were worth sharing.

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Watching the painter painting
And all the time, the light is changing
And he keeps painting
That bit there, it was an accident
But he’s so pleased
It’s the best mistake, he could make
And it’s my favourite piece
It’s just great…

Kate Bush, from the song “An Architect’s Dream” 

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I’ve been working on a group of cityscapes recently but I am not prepared to show them yet, wanting to see what direction they are sending me first. But I thought I would share a quick photo of the one I am currently at work on.

A work in progress.

It’s at the stage that is probably my favorite of all the stages that a painting inevitably passes through on its way to becoming a finished work. It is basically done from the standpoint of its composition. All the elements are blocked in and it is already beginning to impart whatever it has to share to me, its only viewer to this point. The bits of color set against the monochromatic red oxide skeleton of the piece provide bursts of contrast and add depth into the picture plane.

This stage is, except for that final moment when the piece comes to life near the end of the process, always exciting for me. It is like a human skeleton come to life as I build it, telling me aloud where I should be working on it next. It points out how much potential the painting contains, where I should focus my attention and where it can expand its feeling with multiple layers of color.

Most of the time I quietly listen to this talking skeleton and heed its directions to me.

But sometimes I want to tell the skeleton to just shut up stand still for a minute because maybe you’re done as is, Mr. Bones.

Yeah, sometimes I like the work so much at this point I want to stop and just let it be. I worry that by adding more layers of paint that I will cover its essence as I see it at this point. Make it something less than its potential.

But I never just let it be. I don’t know that I have the guts to work that way, to show it as it stands. Or have the ability to stop seeing more in it and needing to continue working at it.

This piece may be as close to just stopping as I get. I could see it being finished with just a few touches to the sky and the moon. Maybe a little more work in leveling out some of the rough spots.

Or not.

I don’t know.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see if this skeleton gets fleshed out.

Here’s the song, An Architect’s Dream, from Kate Bush that provided the lines at the beginning of this post.

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“You say I am repeating 
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own 
And where you are is where you are not.”

― T.S. Eliot, East Coker

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This is a another painting from my upcoming solo show, Moments and Color, at the West End Gallery that opens Friday. It is called Meditatio and it is a painting I have shown here before. It was painted last year but as it sat here in the studio awaiting this show, I saw things in it that made me want  to change the painting a bit.

I lightened the center of it with a few small additions of new paint to the moon and Red Tree, giving it more light. That very much changed the attitude of the piece but it transformed even more when I changed the plain black band that had surrounded the central image to a bronzed burgundy. This new band color altered the experience of the painting, giving the whole thing a warmer glow.

I thought it was strong painting before, one with a meditative presence that definitely stood out in my mind. But these seemingly small changes transformed it greatly. It still feels meditative, as the title implies, but in a more welcoming way.

I see these words above from T.S. Eliot’s East Coker as part of a conversation between the Red Tree and the rising sun/moon, who points out that it repeats its lesson with each new rise. And though it is repetitive, it is no less meaningful and instructive.

I will let you read into it what you will but I particularly love the last line here– And where you are is where you are not.

That could very well sum up my work.

Hope you get a chance to see this piece at the West End Gallery. The opening is Friday, from 5-7:30 PM.

 

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Sometimes I start paintings and somewhere along the way the piece loses its momentum. Or I lose the thread that was initially carrying me along when I started  or I just lose interest in it. The piece above on the left (sorry for the poor image!) might well be an example of all three of these things.

I started this piece a couple of years back and it seemed to just run into a brick wall. I felt like I had painted myself into a corner and didn’t see it going anywhere forward. There was a lot that I like in it. The sky, for instance, and the color of the field. But the way they came together didn’t speak to me and I felt like doing anymore would render an acceptable painting but that would be about it– acceptable.

And who wants to just do acceptable work? That’s not much of an aspiration, especially when so much of my work depends on creating my own interest and excitement in the work.

I thought there should be more to this painting than what it was showing but just couldn’t see it. So it sat. And sat and sat for month after month. I would pick it up periodically and examine it but it still had nothing to say to me as it was. It was irritating.

Then the other day I decided I was going to simply paint over it. Black it out of existence. It wouldn’t bug me anymore, at least. But the idea of blacking it out made me think about altering the whole idea of the painting. Maybe I could save that sky and incorporate it into something different.

So it moved from a landscape to a seascape. And it seems to have worked as I am pleased with the result thus far.

There is a sense of the scale and power of open water in this piece, maybe more than I have portrayed in past similarly themed paintings. I am not a sailor in any way, never been on a small boat out of sight of land but that feeling of the immensity of the ocean is one that I can easily imagine. There must be both a thrill and a terror in it. And that’s what I am getting– fear and exhilaration– from this piece as the small sailboat teeters on on the curl of a large wave.

That dichotomy of emotion, the yin/yang thing of fear and exhilaration in this case, is something often try to find in my work. And it seems to be strong here. So, maybe the years that piece spent being shuffled around my studio before its transformation were worth it.

I’ll be looking at this one for a bit longer…

 

 

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Life is too short to be little. Man is never so manly as when he feels deeply, acts boldly, and expresses himself with frankness and with fervor.

Benjamin Disraeli

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I gave a talk last week with a local arts group, the Elmira Regional Art Society. There was also a  painting demonstration where I first laid out a composition in red oxide then laid in a few preliminary layers of color on an 18″ by 36″ canvas. The thought was just to give an idea of how the process progresses in a condensed timeframe. As a result, I painted very fast, much quicker than I normally do.

But the demo turned went well and I was fairly pleased with the end result, shown here. Quite honestly, going in I had planned on painting over the demo image and reusing the canvas. But this had good rhythm and the first layers of colors pointed me in a good direction, one that made feel I should keep working on this piece.

So, over the weekend I went at it.

I spent some time looking at the piece and didn’t feel too good about the way the central mound rose out of the field rows. It had the effect of stopping my eye so I went back in and extended it to the bottom of the canvas. This also had the effect of giving the field with the rows more dimension and depth into the picture plane, which is something I am often looking for in these pieces. There is a side by side at the bottom which shows the change in the composition as well as how the colors evolved.

Along with brightening parts of sky, finding a harmony in the colors was the biggest part of the remaining work on this painting. Some forms took on  new color and some were deepened and highlighted.

The final move came in placing the Red Tree which focused the whole piece. It has the feel of a flame for me, with the sky behind it reflecting its light. I call this painting Fire on the Mountain.

I am pleased how this piece emerged, given how it began and the fact that there were no expectations for it. Sometimes that happens.  Thanks for everybody from ERAS who attended the talk. With your questions, comments and good humor, you all had a part in making this piece work.

 

 

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While doing a short talk and demonstration for a local arts group last week I mentioned my early work and the fact that it was mainly watercolor based. This surprised some of those in attendance who were not familiar with my early work. I tried to describe my process but thought this blog from several years back might help, at least with the images. Not so much with the words. I still don’t describe this work well. I’ve added a few images from that time.

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GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork6I have been spending a lot of time here in the studio in the last few weeks painting in a more traditional manner, what I call an additive style meaning that layers of paint are continually added , normally building from dark to light. I’ve painted this way for many years but much of my work is painted in a much different manner where a lot of very wet paint is applied to a flat surface. I then take off much of this paint, revealing the lightness of the underlying surface. That’s a very simplified version of the process, one that has evolved and refined over the years, that I, of course, refer to as being reductive.

When you’re self-taught, you can call things whatever you please. I’m thinking of calling my brushes hairsticks from now on. Or maybe twizzlers.

This reductive process is what continually prodded me ahead early on when I was just learning to express myself visually. I went back recently and came across a very early group of these pieces, among the very first where I employed this process. I am still attracted to these pieces, partly because of the nostalgia of seeing those things once again that opened other doors for me. But there was also a unity and continuity in the work that I found very appealing. Each piece, while not very refined or tremendously strong alone, strengthened the group as a whole. I would have been hesitant to show most of these alone but together they feel so much more complete and unified.

This has made me look at these pieces in a different light, one where I found new respect for them. I think they are really symbolic of some of  what I consider strengths in my work, this sense of continuum and relativity from piece to piece. It also brings me back to that early path and makes me consider if I should backtrack and walk that path again, now armed with twenty years of experience. Something to consider.

GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 1 GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 3 GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 5 GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 2 GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 4

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This Sunday morning’s musical selection is tied somewhat to a group of new work that has been rekindling my fire here in the studio. I’ve shown a couple of images of new paintings here and on social media of what I might call my Mask pieces.

Each has been a group of faces that is done in quick strokes from a single brush, starting from one point and filling the canvas. It is unplanned in almost every way. No color plan. No theme. Just intuitively and roughly formed faces that stem from a lifelong collection of faces that have been stacked in my head, culled from looking intently at clouds, woodgrains and patterns of all sorts through the many decades. Seeing them spill out in this way has been energizing in a way that I know from experience will spill over into the rest of my work even if this particular work remains for me privately.

I haven’t been thrilled with how the camera is catching the images thus far. They have been quick photos that don’t fully capture much of the subtlety in the closer parts of the painting. So when the musical selection came up this morning, this section of one of the paintings jumped out at me. I thought showing it in detail would better show how I am seeing the work.

The song selection is the jazz standard Born to Be Blue, written by Mel Torme in 1946. It’s been performed by scores of singers over the years but it became a signature piece for the late Chet Baker.which is the version I am sharing below. In fact, a 2015 film biography of his life starring Ethan Hawke as Baker uses the song title as the film’s title. This version highlights his vocals rather than his horn work and features great piano playing from Bobby Scott.

Hearing it made me think of a blue face that I consider a central character in one of these pieces. At least my eye always lands on him first before roaming across the rest of the picture. The image at the top is a detail featuring him and shows better some of the surface and textures that compose the painting.

That being said, I am eager to get back to work on a new piece in this same style. Enjoy the song and have a great Sunday.

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“Masks beneath masks until suddenly the bare bloodless skull.” 
 Salman RushdieThe Satanic Verses

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This was a small piece that was began yesterday. I had finished a new painting that very much pleased me but left me feeling that it was not a jumping off point to immediately begin another piece in that same vein. In short, it left me feeling a bit blocked.

So, this piece, a 12″ square canvas, was started as a palate cleanser, something where I could just makes marks and shapes and color to fill some space, hoping that it somehow sparked something. This was basically how the Archaeology series began back in 2008. At the time, I was stumped and felt that I was at the end of my creative surge. I began working from a method taught by my 5th grade art teacher where we would simply take large blank sheets of paper and, using pen and ink, fill them in anyway we could. It’s something that I often turn to when I am feeling uninspired and it often bears interesting results.

Here, it started with a face, quickly slashed in with loose strokes, just trying to make a form with as little fuss or detail as possible. Then came another and another and so on. Each inspired the next. They went down in my normal red oxide at first then I went back at each face with quick, rough strokes of other colors, letting the tones and shapes play off one another. It was meant to be coarse in its execution, done fast and without much conscious thought, giving it a bit more expressionistic feel.

What they are, I don’t know. I wasn’t trying to represent anyone I knew or had seen. Just the general faces that have often popped out in my drawing over the years. But many of them have been with me for many years now. Some of them appeared when I was a small child and would try to find them in wallpaper patterns or in the edges of curtains. Everything could be made into a face, so it seemed.

And some I see as being from images culled from medieval texts, even down to the way the lips are modeled. Not done purposely, but they appear that way to me.

But most I recognize here  have been with me since my childhood, some that are friendly and some that deeply bother me, leaving me with an uneasy feeling as though I recognize them from past unpleasant personal experience.

Maybe from this life or some other earlier incarnation, if there are such things. Maybe it’s just a matter of facial and image recognition present in us all that pulls from sort of collective consciousness, that makes us respond to certain shapes and forms. Like I said, I don’t know.

Or maybe it’s just a psychological biopsy of the facets of a personality. Again, I don’t know.

But as a palate cleanser, it has served its purpose. It has amped me up a bit and I could see this small piece growing into larger painting, say 4 or 5 foot square. I could see that having a great impact on the wall, even if it’s only the wall here in the studio. But I don’t know if it will go anywhere beyond this.

Don’t even know if I will completely finish this particular or if I should even try to put eyes in the dark holes where they should be in these faces. I like the feeling that the dark pits give the piece. It gives the faces the appearance of being masks.

And maybe that is what our faces really are- masks.

As always, I don’t know if that’s true. But I do now that if this piece transforms into a larger series I will call it the Masks.

We shall see.

 

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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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