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One of the best pieces of advice I can give to artists (those who paint) is to paint the pictures they want to see. For me, there is no better way to illustrate this than to look to the work of Henri Rousseau. The post below is from five years back and points out the fearlessly unique quality of his work. I’ve added a few images along with a lovely animation of his work that had slipped my mind.

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Henri Rousseau- Self Portrait -1890

Henri Rousseau- Self Portrait -1890

I wrote a tiny bit on this site about Henri Rousseau over five years back [ten years now], showing a few of  his paintings that I count among my favorites. Over the years, that little blogpost is consistently my most popular page, receiving a considerable number of hits each day. It’s a testament to the  power of his imagery, both in its ability to draw in the viewer and in the timeless quality it possesses in its evocation of mood. I know those are the two qualities that drew me to Rousseau and the qualities I have sought to emulate in my own work.

But going through a large book of his work yesterday, I was stuck by one of his greatest attributes, one that I had overlooked: his fearless approach to painting. His work never tried to be something that it was not and always displayed his hand proudly, always declaring itself as his. It gave even his lesser works a strength that is undeniable and true.

It was evidence of a supreme belief in the manner in which he was expressing himself.

That’s not a small thing. I know for myself, there is a constant struggle to maintain my own voice and vision, to not try to conform to the expectations and definitions set down by others in my work. To remain fearless like Rousseau.

henri_rousseau_-_a_carnival_eveningRousseau was born in 1844 and worked most of his life as a civil servant, a clerk who collected taxes on goods going into Paris. He didn’t start painting until he was in his early 40’s and was not a full-time painter until he was 49.  He was basically self taught and worked for the next seventeen years as a painter, blissfully maintaining his fearless work even though he was ignored or disparaged by most of the critics and much of the art world in general.

Yet, among the painters of his day he was tremendously influential, directly inspiring other giants such as Picasso and many of the the Surrealists. I think they, too, were drawn in and empowered by his fearlessness.

I think he might have been one of the great examples of someone painting the paintings he wanted to see. And that, too, is not a small thing. This and his bold approach are constant reminders to painters who want to maintain their unique voice, who don’t want to be lumped in with genres and styles and schools to stay fearless. To believe in their own voice.

I will try.
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henri-rousseau-sleeping-gypsy Henri Rousseau the dream 1910

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The Real Grinder

Whenever I come across an image of this small painting, Grind, from back in 2006 I think of my friend, Joe DeAngelo, who along with his wife, Kathy, runs the Kada Gallery in Erie.  I was greatly saddened yesterday to learn that he had passed away on Monday night at an Erie hospital.

I have been with their gallery since 1996 and while Kathy is the unmistakable and unrelenting energy source of the gallery, Joe has always been the engine, the working force, that keeps it going. He gets things done. So, when he chose this painting for himself many years ago, I was very pleased. Joe told me that he identified with this painting because it really represented how he saw himself– as a grinder, a shoulder against the wheel worker who persisted through all conditions until the job was done.

Joe was a grinder in other ways, as well. He had medical issues for many years including a kidney transplant. In recent years he suffered a major heart attack that drained him physically. Yet, grinder that he was, he refused to stop working every day at the gallery where he was, with his lifetime of engineering experience, a meticulous and top notch framer. As his condition worsened in recent months, he still made his way to the gallery each and every day, against the protestations of doctors and family, because he felt it was his duty and purpose.

As I said, Joe was a grinder.

I am going to miss Joe’s straight forward manner along with his balanced blend of crustiness– he didn’t suffer fools easily– and great humor. He had a great laugh that came quickly.  I always enjoyed my time spent chatting over coffee with him when I was at the gallery. A truly good guy with a big heart and a deep love for his family.

Along with many other folks, I am going to greatly miss my friend, Joe. Hopefully, he can now put down that rope and rest.

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Grateful Moment

Grateful Moment- GC Myers 2014

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Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.

– Marcus Tullius Cicero

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It’s Gratitude Week here on RedTreeTimes. It’s kind of like Shark Week without the carnage. Or sharks.

Well, there is a little carnage but I can guarantee there are no sharks.

For today’s installment, the great Roman orator Cicero certainly has it right. When you think of the great virtues– honor, courage, loyalty, honesty, compassion, respect, and grace along with so many others– you can easily place gratitude as a contributing factor to each. These virtues are often just gratitude set in motion.

If gratitude is not the parent of all virtues, it is at least a conjoined twin.

I am harping on gratitude this week not just because it is Thanksgiving tomorrow. No, it has become painfully obvious that there is a lack of gratitude, and by extension, the absence of accompanying virtues, being shown by many of our public leaders. This includes one person in particular.

Simply put, this lack of gratitude trickles down ( much more so than any tax cuts!) to the general population and we end up with ugly attitudes permeating our daily life.

Gratitude becomes boastful self-aggrandizement.

Respect is replaced by disrespect and denigration.

Courage becomes cowardice.

Loyalty becomes a transaction where one’s loyalty is given only for as long as the other person remains useful.

Empathy devolves into a mocking of the shortcomings and weaknesses of others.

Responsibility and honor becomes irresponsibility and dishonor. Trust turns to distrust.

Graces becomes disgrace.

And honesty?

Honesty has turned into a sort of mythological creature, like the Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster– seldom seen and shocking when it finally shows itself. Dishonesty becomes the accepted norm and we lose the ability to recognize the lies from the truth.

We become a nation of liars, a land without virtue or honor.

It doesn’t have to continue in this way. We are a nation based for centuries on its virtues, always moving towards doing what is right, no matter the cost. We can reclaim that. We can be a country of virtue.

It all starts with simple gratitude.

Be thankful for all that you have. Express it in your words and, more importantly, in your actions.

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In Gratitude

 

Thanksgiving has long been a favorite holiday of mine. So, for the next few days leading up to that holiday, I thought it might be a good idea to have the blog’s focus be on the subject of gratitude. Instead of Shark Week, it’s kind of like Gratitude Week on the Art Channel. To start, I am running a post from a couple of years back that deals with the idea of thankfulness.

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True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.

Seneca

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This new painting, which is about 4″ by 15″ is a bit of a rarity. It is done on plain watercolor paper without the benefit of the texture from the gessoed surfaces that I typically use, much like my very earliest works. It was a nice change, reverting to working on the smooth surface of untreated paper. There’s a sense of purity in the way the colors flow on and set to the paper’s surface.

Very clean. Crisp.

I call this piece In Gratitude.

The words at the top from the Roman philosopher Seneca very much capture the spirit of what I see in this painting and aspire to in my own life– to be always conscious of and grateful for that which I do have in my life.

I talk and think a lot about gratitude. Gratitude for where I am in the present moment sets me free from dwelling on the past or fretting about the future, both things out of my hands. Gratitude also makes me recognize the importance of those who have played key roles in my life.

Recognizing that one depends on the help, the love and the recognition of others in their life is a key element in finding a level of contentment in one’s life.

We do nothing totally alone.

I may claim that my work is my creation alone but it is, in fact, a compilation of the interactions of my life with those who I have encountered along the way. They have formed my sight, my perception of this world, and given shape to the hoped-for world that shows itself in my work.

And for that alone, I am so grateful.

So, this seems like a simple small painting but for me it speaks volumes.

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Cycle of Life

A few weeks ago I noticed a deer– a doe– laying down, tucked back in a group of mixed pines that are at the edge of the driveway in front of my studio. Something seemed amiss here.  Too still and not looking back at me when I stopped walking to gaze in at it.

Moving closer I discovered that it was dead. There were no obvious wounds which was my first thought. Bow hunting season had opened recently and perhaps she had been hit and made it to this spot. But looking closer there were a couple of scrapes around her face and neck. Most likely she had been hit by a car and found her way to this quiet little glade to succumb.

There are worse places to die.

I’ve watched many groups of deer around my studio over the past decade and have witnessed many of them grow up in this comfortable safe space. I watch them playfully bounce around, often running crazily in circles around the studio. I watch them graze at the grass and undergrowth. Watch them sleep out in the lawn. Watch the males test their strength with their new antlers. One even sleeps up next to the foundation wall behind the scraggly hedges at the front of the studio.

I appreciate their struggle to live as a wild creature among humans. It’s hard enough for those of us who are somewhat human. And while I understand the place of death in the cycle of life, seeing this poor dead doe made me sad.

It also made me wonder if I should do anything with her body. It was pretty close to the studio and I worried that it might create an odor. I’ve been around enough of that stench of death to know I didn’t want to wallow in it for an extended period. Maybe I should get a bag of lime? Bury it?

In the end I left it where it was. A day passed before I set up a trail cam to capture whatever came to visit.The carcass had been moved a bit and the rear haunch had been eaten at. The belly was open now and the organs exposed. The camera was setup and revealed a few visitors. But only a few. Less than I had anticipated.

The first two nights brought a single coyote who ate a bit at the rear haunch. Most likely it was the one who had moved the carcass.

 

The third day brought a couple of crows who worked at a spot behind the front leg. At this point, the open belly was writhing mass of maggots along with an army of beetles that ran to and from the body, grabbing bits of it disappearing under leaves with their precious cargo. I did not take pictures of the maggots or the beetles.

On the next two days the turkey buzzards came. If you have never seen buzzards up close, they are an impressive bird the size of an eagle with a huge wingspan. Walking down my driveway on one of these days, there were 7 or 8 of these guys in the trees around this spot. Watching them flee through the low pines, trying to avoid the many branches, with their majestic soaring way of flying was thing to behold. They did quite a job over the time they were there although nothing compared to the constant around the clock erosion caused by the maggots and beetles.

This guy below acted like the king, showing off his wingspan chasing off the others at times.

Below is the deer at the end of five days from when I first set up the camera.

Below is the next day. The turkey buzzards came for one last quick nosh. You can see how much work the maggots and beetles accomplished since the last photo above which was taken only 24 hours earlier. They are at it constantly.

Below is at the end of seven days. Little remained but bones, a bit of hair and hardened skin around the skull. Thanks to scavengers, large and small, most of the deer had made its way back into the cycle of life. If this had been further up in the woods, the bones might even be gone by now.

The odor was surprisingly limited. It didn’t emanate in waves that went out in all directions. Rather came out in narrows bands  that would move in whichever direction the air was moving at the moment. Sometimes I could walk up the carcass and barely smell a thing from it even as I stood mere feet away. But walking away around the corner from it, maybe a hundred feet away from it, I would cross through a band of pure stink that might be twenty feet wide. Once through, no more smell. After about five days the odor was nearly gone altogether.

As sad as it made me, it was an interesting thing to witness. It gave me a closer glimpse into the cycle of life, how the death of one creature can perpetrate the life of another. We don’t often get to see that firsthand so I feel lucky in an odd sort of way.

 

 

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Principle Gallery Talk Today

Gallery Talk today at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, starting at 1 PM. The weather is supposed to be perfect and there’s a great art festival on King Street. Plus you can possibly win a painting at the Gallery Talk. Plus there are some other neat surprises.

Hope you can make it.

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DATE CHANGE!

As far as the weather, we’ve been pretty fortunate for the past 15 years holding my annual Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery in conjunction with the King Street Arts Festival in Alexandria. There has been a light shower once or twice and one year there was one large storm with a tornado touching down several miles away that hit late Saturday afternoon of the weekend festival. But overall it has normally been excellent weather.

Well, this year is bucking the trend. Hurricane Florence seems to be setting a direct course for the east coast of the US and when a hurricane of the size they are talking about is coming your way, it’s best to pay attention. They were already sandbagging the blocks below the gallery along the Potomac River this afternoon in preparation for the storm and the possible surge on the river. As a result, the King Street Arts Festival has postponed this year’s event, rescheduling it until the following weekend, September 22 and 23.

The Gallery and I agreed that it wouldn’t make sense to try to give the talk in a possibly raging storm. The storm scene in the movie Key Largo comes to mind. Not a good time. So we have moved this year’s Gallery Talk to the following Saturday, September 22,at the same 1 PM time.

Sorry for any inconvenience and I hope you’ll still be able to make it to the gallery on the 22nd. I promise it will be one week better!

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