Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Bearden/ Talking About Life

Romare Bearden Jazz Suite 1979 b

Romare Bearden–Jazz Suite ,1979

I believe that art is an expression of what people feel and want. In order for a painting to be “good” two things are necessary: that there be a communion of belief and desire between artist and spectator; that the artist be able to see and say something that enriches the fund of communicable feeling and the medium for expressing it.

–Romare Bearden, Artist’s statement (1940)

Romare Bearden (1911-1988) is one of those artists who inspire with both their work and their words. I have always admired his work and usually come away with something I can use in my own work whenever I spend time looking at his work. But I also enjoy hearing his views on his work and art in general, usually sharing his point of view.

His writing evolved over the year, becoming more direct and to the point as he aged and understood what he was as ana artist. For example, the quote at the top is from a 1940 artist’s statement. It is more formal and tending towards artspeak, that mishmash of  artsy terminology that often sounds high and mighty while saying little. It actually says something and I agree with his premise, so, for me, it doesn’t quite reach artspeak.

But contrast it with this bit from an interview in the 1980’s:

All painting is a kind of talking about life.

Short, sweet, and to the point. He always feels like someone you could sit down with and have a comfortable conversation about meaningful things. Maybe, like his painting, talking about life. It’s a sentiment that is very much the same in the two statements above and I think it applies to his work as well. There’s a comfort level, a warm and inviting quality, in his work that I find appealing. It’s something that most artists would love to have that in their own work. It’s something I certainly hope shows up in mine, at least sometimes.

Since Bearden often used jazz musicians as a favorite subject, thought I’d end this short post with a favorite piece of jazz from Miles Davis, his classic So What.

Seems like a good way to kick off the week.

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Shake Your Hips

9920017 Exile on Main Street rev 21 sm

Exile on Main Street– At Kada Gallery, Erie

My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world, and exiles me from it.

–Ursula K. Le Guin, The Creatures on My Mind, 1996

Going with the Exile theme on this Sunday morning.

Let’s start with a quote from author Ursula Le Guin. We often think of the imagination as expanding our vision, allowing us to see things beyond our reality and create new possibilities that might someday come to bear. In that way, imagination gives us the world. But she points out that this same imagination allows us to envision peril and conspiracies that don’t exist, that create fear and paranoia in us. Things that make us exiles in this world.

My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool… — love that line.

Then, continuing with the Exile theme, let’s go to the painting at the top which is currently at the Kada Gallery in Erie. It borrowed its title, Exile on Main Street, from the classic 1972 Rolling Stones album, considered by many to be the group’s masterwork.

And let’s finish, for this week’s Sunday Morning Music, with a song that came from that album. It’s Shake Your Hips and is covered here with a terrific performance from Joan Osborne. I think Joan Osborne is vastly underappreciated. I saw her 20-some years ago in a St. Patrick’s Day performance at Carnegie Hall with the Chieftains and was blown away by her voice.

I only knew her from a huge pop hit she had a few years before, One of Us, a song that asked the question: What if god was one of us? It was one of those songs that inundated the airwaves at the time, seeming like it was on every radio channel all the time. It’s a good tune but it didn’t really give an idea of what I feel are her true abilities. I am throwing it on her as well if you can’t remember the song.

Okay, on to the day…

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Easy Saturday

Dissolve Hafiz

Let’s make this an Easy Saturday. Maybe just an image, a few words to think about and a song. Kind of a short break before you have to move on to dealing with whatever reality confronts your day.

We all deserve a break.

So, how about a few words from the 14th century Persian poet Hafiz (Hafez) about how we become the personification of our words and thoughts. While you’re thinking about that you can take in a favorite overlooked painting of mine, Dissolve, while listening to a favorite Beatles song that is definitely not overlooked. The song, The Word, also speaks about the power of words.

Look. Think. Listen.

Arrange those three in any order that suits you.

Now back to reality…

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Castles in the Air

GC Myers- Working to Stillness

Working to Stillness, At Kada Gallery

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

–Henry David Thoreau, Walden

This is a well-known quote from Walden. Maybe the most well-known. It basically states, in my opinion, that we are meant to dream, to imagine better things and circumstances for ourselves. But there comes a time when we have to put the work in to make these dreams a reality.

Pretty sound stuff. The value of work and dreams is not lost on me. My life as it is, as simple and humble as it might seem from the outside, was once a castle in the air. I was leafing through an old journal from when I was 16 or 17 years old and came across a list of goals for my future.

I was surprised at how closely it matched the life I now live. I was pleased at first for it validated this idea that you somehow eventually reach destinations for which you set a course. Then I began to wonder what might have happened had I built my castles even further up in the sky.

Were the goals of an unexceptional and naive 16-year-old too restrained and self-limiting? Or did that 16-year-old know itself better than I currently think it did, that it already recognized its own core strengths and deficiencies?

I don’t know the answer to that question. But I can say that I don’t regret placing the foundation under the castle that I first built in the air when I was young. It suits me.

My one wish is to have time enough to put other foundations under a few other castles that float in the air above me. We shall see.

As it is with most f the quotes I use here, I like to seek out the context in which they appear in their original form. I felt that the paragraphs that end with these words from Thoreau should be shared in full.

There’s still a lot of meat on this old bone:

I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear, that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

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Ask Me

GC Myers- Reverie

Reverie– Now at Kada Gallery, Erie, PA

Ask Me

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

–William Stafford, Stories That Could Be True, 1977

Ask me whether what I have done is my life. 

Quite a sentence.

It raises all sorts of thoughts and questions, doesn’t it? Who has our river passed by? Who has helped or hurt us, loved or hated us? And has our river changed as it passes by a point long downstream even though it is the same river? If so, how and why?

On another morning it might well be worth a discussion but for today I am just going to let it hang there in the air for you to consider, if you wish. It’s your river after all.

For me, what the river says, that is what I say…

Here’s a song from Nick Lowe, a nice cover of A Quiet Place that was originally performed by Garnett Mimms in 1963. I wrote about Garnett Mimms, playing his version of this song, a couple of years back in a post called Criminally Underappreciated, which I guess says all that needs to be said about his lack of recognition.

But that is simply part of his river. Ask him whether what he has done is his life…

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A New Cornucopia

GC Myers A New Cornucopia sm

A New Cornucopia– At Kada Gallery, Erie, PA

For the secret of man’s being is not only to live but to have something to live for. Without a stable conception of the object of life, man would not consent to go on living, and would rather destroy himself than remain on earth, though he had bread in abundance.

–Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (1880)

Hard to believe that we’re just a little more than a week away from Thanksgiving. It might well be my favorite holiday in that it is the one that asks you to recognize the abundances in your life and express gratitude for them. It’s a time of self-reflection, perspective, and humility.

A time of defining one’s own abundance, those immaterial things which give your life purpose and meaning. Things that can’t be bought, that are available to all. Things such as love, friendship, and family. The beauty. and generosity of nature seen in fields and flowers. The warmth of sunlight and the coolness of rain and snow. The magic of imagination and memory.

Each of us has our own cornucopia, our own horn of plenty, at hand if we can only inoculate ourselves against the envy and selfish greed that infects our society so that we might recognize it as such.

We often want more when we already have all that we need. 

Share your abundance. You’ll find that you will lose nothing and gain everything in doing so.

Let’s end this homily with a fitting song from the always great Kinks. This is wonderful live performance of their song Days from 2010 at the Glastonbury Festival. Ray Davies is visibly emotional at the song’s beginning, having dedicated the song to Pete Quaife, the band’s original bassist who had died just recently.

Love, friendship and memory in abundance. As is should be…

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GC Myers- From a Distance  2020

From a Distance- At the West End Gallery

My life goes on in endless song
above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation
above the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing
it sounds an echo in my soul
how can I keep from singing?

–Robert Lowry, 1869,  How Can I Keep From Singing?  

I woke up this morning thinking about the 15,000 protesters arrested in recent protests in Iran who were sentenced to death yesterday by the Iranian parliament. It chills me many levels.

Mainly, on a purely human level. That a group of theocrats holding the reins of such power, using religion as both a shield and a weapon, think they have the moral right to end the lives those who simply defied them is an abomination to our humanity.

It also chills me that there are many here in this country who would willingly follow that same path and merge state and church. History shows us that this is a choice that inevitably moves to extreme positions, much like we are witnessing in Iran.

And I am chilled that the Iranian decision to execute the 15,000 didn’t garner a single mention on the National News last night. The normalization of atrocity and the devaluation of human life seems to be a hallmark of our current civilization, one that worries me for this country and all others going forward. The media’s lack of attention is the reason I bring it up this morning.

Even against the ugly lessons history teaches us in such situation, I hope that voices around the globe are raised against the inhumanity of Iran’s decision, that somehow reason prevails.

Miriam Jones Album Cover with LP

Reach For the Morning– Miriam Jones

For myself, I try to calm my fears by listening to music or reading literature or looking at works of art. Or merely looking out the window at the trees, the landscape, and animals around the studio. Things that remind me of the beauty still possible in this world.

This morning that led me to a song from my friend, singer/songwriter Miriam Jones, who you might remember used the painting at the top for the cover of her most recent album, Reach For the Morning. She does a marvelous cover of the 19th century folk hymnal, How Can I Keep From Singing? that was written by American Robert Lowry in 1869. It has been covered by a wide variety of artists over the years, but I truly believe Miriam’s interpretation is among the best versions that I have heard. It is as powerful as its message.

A good way to maintain a sense of calm and perspective in a world that seems sometimes mad.

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Offered to the Wind

GC Myers- Offered to the Wind 2022

Offered to the Wind— At Kada Gallery

Adversity is like a strong wind…it holds us back from places we might otherwise go. It also tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that afterward we see ourselves as we really are, and not merely as we might like to be.

–Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

I guess the question is, based on the short excerpt above from Memoirs of a Geisha, is: Even after adversity has blown away all our protective facades and disguising masks, are we capable of recognizing ourselves truly as we are and not as we imagine ourselves to be?

I don’t really know the answer or if that is even a viable question. If I had to answer, I would suppose that the answer depends on the distance between our imagined self and the reality of the one exposed by the wind. The idea of someone who has carried a distorted and bloated sense of self-importance through their entire life going through adversity then suddenly accepting their now obvious deficiencies seems a bit farfetched. 

The better question might be: How well does one live with this new self suddenly exposed by the winds of adversity?

The Red Tree that is a big element in so many of my paintings is often about this revealed inner self being exposed to the outer world. It has withstood the winds and weather of adversity and now fully sees itself as it is, for better or worse. Knowing what it is, it deals with the world in a more honest and open manner.

It knows what it has to offer to and what it should expect from the world.

Hmm… Going to have to chew on that for a while. Some morning, after I have written a bit, I begin to wonder if I am making any sense at all.

This feels like one of those days. 

Anyway, here’s a song related to the wind. I have previously shared the David Bowie version of this song that was first recorded by Johnny Mathis in 1957. This is a fine performance from Esperanza Spalding of Wild Is the Wind.

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March of Progress

GC Myers Studio Wall 2022

The fact that we’ve been a great democracy doesn’t mean we will automatically keep being one if we keep waving the flag.

–Norman Mailer, Why Are We at War?

Mailer’s words ring true for me, especially in light of the election currently winding down. Democracy is not a static concept, not an endpoint. It is a progressive march forward, one that seeks to constantly adjust and correct the injustices and inequalities of a nation’s past so that the benefits and opportunities afforded that nation are extended to all its citizens.

It is a slow march, one comprised of sometimes small, barely perceptible incremental steps forward.

Stopping at any one point in that forward progress– or worse yet, regressing to a point in its past– is the antithesis of democracy. When one of the major parties takes the stance that it wants to halt this progress and tries to reach its goal by instilling fear and anger and unquestioning obedience in its followers, it becomes something far different at that point. Something that seeks to limit justice, equality and opportunity to the few rather than the many.

Something that is decidedly undemocratic.

No amount of nationalistic flag waving or sloganeering can change that.

I have my dad’s burial flag from the VA on a stone shelf in my studio. It certainly doesn’t make me a patriot. But it reminds me that I am no less a patriot than someone who makes a show of waving the flag while rallying behind would-be dictators who seek to divert the march of progress.

I suppose my definition of a patriot is someone who continues to seek a form of democracy that is ever more inclusive and fairer to everyone. It may never come to be, but so long there are those patriots with an unblinking eye to that future and the will to defend democracy, the march of progress will continue.

This past week has proven that. But the efforts of antidemocratic forces will go on and it will be a constant struggle. Let’s hope those patriots among us stay focused and engaged. Let us all be patriots.

That brings us to this week’s Sunday Morning Music. I am featuring a song, I Am a Patriot, that I have played a couple of times here before. Written and originally performed by Little Steven in the 1980’s. It originally had a reggae beat and sound but today’s version here is a bit different. Eddie Vedder, with Pearl Jam and solo, has performed this song countless times over the past twenty+ years and he is constantly interpreting it in different ways. I particularly like this version from back in 2003.

It seems to fit the moment.

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Only the Strong Survive

GC Myers- The Durable Will sm

The Durable Will – At Kada Gallery, Erie, PA

Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.

–Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva, 1567-1622

I am not going to ramble on this morning. Trust me, I was planning on doing just that. But in mulling over what defines real strength, I realized that it often comes in brevity, in not having to point out everything. The strength that comes in the calm confidence of just standing as is, exposed and letting others draw whatever conclusions they might.

So, while I would like to talk about the strength and power that comes in compassion and gentleness, I am just going to leave it as is for you to ponder.

I am going to add a song. Bruce Springsteen has a new album called Only the Strong Survive which is comprised of his cover versions of great Soul and R&B classics. While I have been a Bruce fan for nearly 50 years and his music has been the soundtrack for much of my life, I am not crazy about this album. Oh, his performances and those of the backing band are excellent and the songs are, needless to say, brilliant.

It’s a fine album and I will no doubt listen to and enjoy it again and again.

But the originals of some of these songs are so ingrained in the precious fabric of memory that the covers seem almost tepid in comparison. Maybe that’s because I do know these songs so well. For those of you who might not know them well, his versions might feel fresh and eye-opening. And that’s okay, even good if with it comes some recognition of the originals. Here’s the original version of the title track from the great Jerry “The Iceman” Butler.

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