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“Living right in the heart of Tokyo itself is quite like living in the mountains – in the midst of so many people, one hardly sees anyone.”

― Yūko Tsushima, Of Dogs and Walls

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This is a new painting, a 24″ by 24″ canvas, that was inspired in part by the older painting I showed here last week, Raise Your Eyes.  Unlike my normal Red Roof structures which have a closed off feel without doors or windows, these cityscapes are all doors and windows.

All eyes, ears, and mouths.

But as the late, esteemed Japanese writer Yuko Tsushima described in the words above, even with the presence of so many buildings filled with so many people, there is often a sense of anonymity. Perhaps it is the scale of the buildings which sometimes seem like looming mountains that overshadow anything beneath them. Or maybe it is the sheer number of people, so many that the faces and shapes blend into an amorphous blur in passing.

I’m not sure exactly what it is that gives this sense of anonymity but I find the paradox in it fascinating. Maybe that’s one reason why I enjoy painting these pieces so much. The main reason I believe is in the focus required in putting these together. Starting at the bottom of the canvas with no predetermined endpoint in mind, the picture rises slowly with each new structure leading to the next, all the while trying to ascertain how each new move changes the weight and feel of the whole.

Every stroke is a solution to one problem and the beginning of the next.

For me, the result is kind of like looking inside my head. It resembles a jumble, sometimes sloppy and tangled. But somehow, through the mess, it is always trying to create a sense of wholeness, of rightness.

Trying to find order in chaos.

Sometimes, I find it. Sometimes, I don’t.

I am still not sure this painting is finished. I am calling it for time being Around the Clock but for a time had considered calling it Witnesses or Hit and Run. I saw it with a body on the pavement of the intersection at the bottom right of the piece. and maybe a silhouette or two in the windows that look out on it. But I am not sure that I want to add that narrative thread, not sure that I want to change what I am looking at now in that manner.

So, I will dwell on it for a bit before I do anything. Or don’t.

We shall see…

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Along with the photo of the drum major that was featured in yesterday’s blog, I also came across another Alfred Eisenstadt photo. Shown above, it is of one of my painting heroes, Thomas Hart Benton, standing in front of a self-portrait. It’s a face that definitely belongs in one of his paintings. It reminded me of the post I’ve included below from a few years back that contains a video about the making of one of his famed murals. If you have ten or eleven minutes and are interested in the painstaking efforts that went into the making of this masterpiece, give it a look. 

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Thomas_Hart_Benton_-_Achelous_and_Hercules_-_SmithsonianBack in June, I wrote about going to the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum to see the painting shown above,  Achelous and Hercules, a wondrous mural from the great American painter Thomas Hart Benton.  It was commissioned to hang in a now-defunct Kansas City department store in 1947 and after the store closed in 1984 this masterpiece was given to the Smithsonian.

The photo of this mural doesn’t do it justice. Its size and scale, 5′ high and 22′ on a wide wooden panel that Benton painted in egg tempera, is lost in fitting its image on a small screen.  Take my word, it’s imposing and grand, a piece I could stand in front of for hours, losing myself in the rhythms and colors.

That being said, I came across a video taken from an old film that shows the incredibly elaborate process that Benton used in the making of this mural, which took about eight months.  It is fascinating and unusual to see a known masterpiece all the way through the process and coming together in all its stages.  It makes me appreciate this painting even more.

Here is that video.  It’s about 11 minutes long and worth the time spent.

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I am at work on a large commissioned piece. As a rule, I don’t like doing commissions because I sometimes fear the client’s aims and expectations will somehow cloud my creative process and ultimately make the painting less than it might otherwise be. And for me, trying to please someone else’s eye rather than my own is not usually conducive to good work.

And at the beginning of this particular painting, that definitely seemed the case.

I had several reference photos that were provided by the client to give me context and as general guidelines for the kind of landscape they hoped for in the painting. I don’t normally– actually, I never– work from reference photos. I don’t know why but in this case I tried to remain absolutely faithful to them.

It wasn’t good.

I spent a few frustrating days repeatedly laying out the piece then painting it over to restart again. It just didn’t move, didn’t feel alive. It made me tense and a little angry to where I finally came to a place where I determined that I was being too fixated on accuracy and was setting aside the things that I felt were important to me in my work– rhythm, line and pattern.

This was my painting so it had to excite and please me first. I made the decision to have it do just that and began making big changes that would imbue it with the things I needed to see and feel in it. I began to move things around, cutting away elements in the composition and changing the flow of the landscape.

It began to grow in a more organic and less thought out way. Each step got me more engaged and more excited, each subsequent layer of color bringing it a bit more vibrant and alive. I worked last night on it, leaving as it came to a point where it is has all its momentum steaming forward. All of it’s potential seems now evident to me and it feels like it is a balloon filled to the absolute limit, ready to burst at any instant into a mass of color and movement.

For me, this is the most exciting point of a painting. It’s there and I just have to tear away the shell that is keeping it restrained. I feel a palpable excitement looking at it this morning.

I feel good.

I can’t show you any in progress shots because I believe this is meant to be a surprise gift. So I will instead show a very old watercolor from around 1994 which acts as a segue to a little music from the venerable John Lee Hooker and a song whose title and feeling absolutely hit the mark this morning.  It’s his boogie classic I Feel Good.  I call the painting Leroi’s Yellow Guitar.

I could paint to this all day long…

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Sunny Point from Keuka Lake

Have some details here for a two day painting workshop I will be leading at the Sunny Point location on the east side of Keuka Lake, located here in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York state. The workshop is being hosted by the Arts Center of Yates County and their Sunny Point location is a wonderful setting. We will be painting on the wonderful porch overlooking the lake and if the weather turns will move inside where they are in the process of updating their lighting with full spectrum LED’s.

The dates are September 28 and 29, Thursday and Friday. The workshop begins at 9 AM and runs to 4 PM each day. Enrollment is limited to 8-10 workshoppers with materials being provided. It is open to all levels of ability– from working artists to pure beginners. Even if you have never held a paintbrush, you can take part and create your own piece of art. You can go to this link to contact them about enrollment.

Looking out from the Sunny Point painting porch

This is my third year with this workshop and it is, surprisingly for me, something that I enjoy. Believe me, I was a little apprehensive in the beginning, as I am sure the folks who attended that first workshop can attest. But seeing how attentive and excited they were by the things they learned was invigorating to me. They made tremendous strides in a very short time and much of what they did was, simply put, exceptional. Plus, it was fun, with a lot of story-telling and good natured conversation.

In the past two workshops we focused on my wet process, one where a lot of liquid paint is put on the surface then taken off. It is fast paced and sloppy but the effects of the paint show themselves immediately. It can be exciting.

We will be painting in this style at this year’s workshop

This year we are switching gears, moving to a more controlled type of painting, one where we will be working a bit more upright on easels, applying multiple layers of paint. To put it simply, the wet process was about pulling paint off to reveal light and this process is about adding paint to build up light.

It’s a different thought process, one that is often a bit more meditative and slow forming. But, that being said, we will be moving at a fast pace. I want the artists there to try to see how it is to paint without thinking so much about painting a picture and focus on each stroke and its importance. My feeling is that every stroke is significant and the painting as a whole is a compilation of small paintings that come together to express something emotive.

Maybe that sounds ambitious for a two day workshop. But I have a feeling that the folks who end up at Sunny Point will be willing to have some fun and work hard to see that end. If it sounds like something that might interest you, I can guarantee you that I will work hard to make it worth your while.

Hope to see you on Keuka Lake in late September!

 

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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.

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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 WIP in Studio 2015 JuneThere wasn’t much of a break after getting back from last Friday’s opening of my show, Native Voice, at the Principle Gallery, which hangs there until July 6th.  No, there was another deadline waiting for me when I returned to the studio: the July 17 opening of  my annual show at the West End Gallery, this year titled Home+Land.  The last week has seen me fall right back into the groove that was formed in prepping for the Principle Gallery show.

This is not an unusual pattern.  This is the 13th year that my West End show has began right on the heels of my Principle Gallery show and  in that time I have developed a way of coping with the tight schedule: heavy drinking.  Not really but there are days sometimes that feel like that might not be such a bad idea, especially those ones where the creative thread seems to disappear briefly and a bit of panic rises in me.  And believe me, that does happen from time to time.

Yesterday, for example.  I had finished a new painting ( the one at the top) and was still in that piece in my mind and not ready to move on quite yet.  I checked out my calendar to see where I was in relation to the opening and it just seemed, in that moment when my mind was still not yet moving on to the next task, that there was so much to do and so little time in which to complete it. A horrible ball of tension built within me and I found myself paralyzed with panic for a while.  My mind just stalled with that calendar imposed on it.  I paced around the studio for quite a while, trying to gain footing and move past this.

I knew that I could and that I would.  The experience of having been through this so many times before calms those nerves and lets me keep my eyes on what is in front of me rather than fretting about what is ahead.  And that is the secret to overcoming the pressure of a deadline such as this– staying focused in the moment.  Clearing the mind of worries about things that may or may not occur in the future and immersing yourself in the task at hand.  And luckily for me the task that I normally face is one, by its very nature, that normally calms my anxieties.

So I moved immediately to the paint and within minutes of the first brushstroke the anxiety seemed to ease.  The mind cleared.  The calendar seemed trivial and distant. All I saw was the scene that began to take shape in front of me and all of my thoughts were simple reactions to what I was doing on the canvas.

All was well again.

That being said, there is still much to do for the upcoming show and I am sure there will more incidents like yesterday in the next month.  But I am prepared and the show thus far looks and feels very good to me, which in itself is a calming agent.  I just thought I would give you an inside look at one of the parts of the process that sometimes gets swept under the rug– you don’t see it but it’s often there underneath the surface.

 

 

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GC Myers- Away From the Chaos smI mentioned here earlier that I am giving a Gallery Talk next Saturday at the Kada Gallery in Erie.  When I give one of theses talks it is not uncommon for me to bring a small group of new work for the gallery. One of the pieces that is heading to Erie with me is this painting, a 24″ by 20″ canvas that is titled Away From the Chaos.

Actually, I should say that it was titled Away From the Chaos.

You see, this painting started its life several years ago in  a much different form.  It was a piece that showed just once for a very short stay in a gallery then moved to the wall of my studio where it has been ever since.  It was one of those pieces that seemed to be right  in the moment but was just missing that something which  kept me from making contact with it.  It was like a person who has experienced a stroke and has full cognizance with much to share but just can’t make the person in front of them understand.

And I was that person who couldn’t understand.  I could see there was something in it.  Life and emotion.  But  muted and totally restrained.  The colors of its sky felt pointy and sharp to me–a sickly yellow that  didn’t add depth in the image and gave the whole thing a green pallor that belied what I felt was the emotion behind the painting.

So for years, I would go into the room that held this painting and feel a sickening, uneasy pang whenever my eyes settled on it.  It made me sad that it seemed there physically but was so far away.

Finally, a week ago, I could take it no more and decided to either revive it or kill it.  The sky transformed in depth and color, becoming warmer and more giving.  The fields brightened.  The brightness of its color and the roof line of the barn changed as I altered one edge that always felt wrong to me– a small flaw but one that became larger when combined with the others.

And the Red Tree made its way to a central point where it truly became the welcoming symbol that I often see it as.  It suddenly felt so much more alive and complete.  It could reach out now and communicate to me.  And that’s a comforting thing for me.

The old title no longer seemed appropriate.  I settled on Making Contact.  Now it seems right.

Away From the Chaos -evoltion

 

This painting can be seen  at the Kada Gallery next Saturday, April 11, where I will be giving a Gallery Talk which begins at 1 PM.  If you can make it, please stop in– we will be having a free drawing for one of my original paintings and a few other goodies.  I am aiming for an entertaining and , hopefully, an enlightening talk. Hope to see you there.

 

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