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Sowing Lightning

SOWING LIGHTNING

Seize
Bolts of lightning from the sky
And plant them in fields of life.

They will grow like tender sprouts of fire.
Charge somber thoughts
With unexpected flash,
You, my lightning in the soil! 

― Visar Zhiti, The Condemned Apple: Selected Poetry

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This is a newer painting that I’ve been looking at for a while now here in the studio. With its many lightning bolts, it’s obviously different from most of my work even though most of it falls in line with the body of my work.

Most of my considerations have to do with whether I feel there is more to be done on this piece. That’s not uncommon when a new element is added. It takes time for me to accept this new thing being interjected into my quiet little world.

I guess that can be said for most new things.

I can see where a lot of people who know my work might have mixed feelings about this piece that seems so much like an anomaly. It has a feeling of an electrical shock in it, shiny and sharp and harsh. If you’ve ever been zapped by a strong jolt of electricity, you know what I mean.

I know that feeling.

But for now, I continue to consider this painting. It may change in some way before it ever sees the outer world again.

Or may be not. For now, I am calling it Sowing Lightning after the poem at the top from the Albanian poet Visar Zhiti. The idea of lightning planting itself in the earth with each strike is an intriguing one.

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I am sure there are plenty of artists who would argue this point made by Jackson Pollock. Like religion, many would most likely defend their chosen means of expression as the best.

But I think he is saying there is no one right way, no one technique that ranks above all others in issuing an artist’s statement. Each artist’s individual voice comes through their own chosen technique. Their statement–their statement of belief, if you will– arrives via that technique.

I know that’s been my experience. I am generally looking for a statement of some sort from an artist in their work, something that displays their own truth regardless of how it is expressed.

Something that makes me feel the need to look at it.

It can be in any style, stretching from the most refined painting created by a classically schooled artist down to an untrained folk artist who uses their local mud as their painting medium because that is all that is at hand. So long as each is earnestly created (and that is an important distinction) and provokes a true emotional response, any and all technique is valid.

To bring it back to the religious analogy, the earnest belief of the lone person sitting in a decrepit hut somewhere may be as valid as that of  a priest in the grandest cathedral.

Art, like religion, is diminished when we fail to see the validity of all other voices.

 

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
–Ozymandias, PB Shelley
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If you have ever been to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, you have no doubt seen the painting above. I’ve only been there once and the image of this painting and its strong presence in the space really sticks in my mind. It was painted in 1863 by artist Elihu Vedder, an American expatriate who lived and worked in Italy for over 60 years.

Its title is The Questioner of the Sphinx and it shows a man listening intently at the lips of the ancient monument with the hope, no doubt, of hearing some eternal truth. The skull in the sand makes clear that the Sphinx will not easily relinquish its secrets. The kneeling listener is said to represent man’s futile desire to find immortality.

With the still sand covered Sphinx and the scattered toppled columns, the painting presents us with echoes from ancient history of once mighty empires that are long fallen and forgotten. It is reminiscent of Shelley’s great poem, Ozymandias, shown above, that speaks to the hubris and folly of those who think they can lord over this world.

This was painted at a time when the US was in the midst of the Civil War and there was great doubt as to whether the county would be able to endure the struggle. The US was not an empire at that point. It was still young and finding its way but we still represented a great triumph of democracy, a country ruled by its people and  not kings or dictators or despots– a rarity in the whole of history. But in that civil war we found ourselves in an existential crisis, a tipping point, that put us in peril of being consigned to the dustbin of history before we even grew into any form of our potential.

I write about this painting this morning because it feels to me that we are again at a tipping point, divided in many ways as a country. It feels like there is going to soon be some sort of revelation that is either going to set us on a course that will either allow us to continue to grow our American experiment or will cause us to plummet into a darker and much more dangerous future.

It all hinges on people who are ethical and principled standing up and doing what is right and exposing the truths of our time.

But in the meantime, I find myself feeling like that man with his ear anxiously pressed to the lips of Sphinx.

 

Blues Twilight

 I was looking for something to play this morning and put on this album, Blues Twilight, from jazz trumpet player Richard Boulger. I’ve played a couple of tracks from this album here over the years.

While the title track was playing I went over to over to a painting that hangs in my studio, the one shown above. It’s an experiment titled October Sky from a few years back that is a real favorite of mine. I showed it for only a short time before deciding that I wanted it hanging in the studio. I never really worked any further in the direction this piece was taking me. Part of that decision to not go further was purely selfish, wanting to keep something solely for myself, something that wasn’t subject to other people’s opinions.

A strictly personal piece. A part of the prism that doesn’t show.

I look at it every day but generally it is from a distance, taking it in as a whole. But his morning, while the album’s title track played I went  and really looked hard at it, up close so that every bump and smear was obvious. And I liked what I was seeing, so much so that I grabbed my phone and began snapping little up close chunks of it.

It all very much felt like the music, like captured phrases or verses.  Each had their own nuance, color and texture and they somehow blended into a harmonic coherence that made the piece feel complete.

It’s funny but sometimes when I am working hard and in a groove that takes over from conscious thought, I almost forget about those things that I myself like in my work because I don’t have to think about them in the process of creating the work. Looking at this painting this close made me appreciate the painting even more, made me think about it in a different way than the manner in which I now used to seeing it.

Guess it’s a good thing to stop every now and then and look at what you’ve done, up close and personal.

Here’s Blues Twilight from Richard Boulger. Enjoy the music and take a look at the snips, if you so wish. But definitely have a good day.


GC Myers- October Sky detail
GC Myers- October Sky detail GC Myers- October Sky detail GC Myers- October Sky detail GC Myers- October Sky detail GC Myers- October Sky detailGC Myers- October Sky detail

Aurae

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It is better to have your head in the clouds, and know where you are, if indeed you cannot get it above them, than to breathe the clearer atmosphere below them, and think that you are in paradise.

–Henry David Thoreau

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This is a new painting, titled Aurae, that is part of my upcoming June show at the Principle Gallery. It has a real presence in a space, mainly to its strong colors and its sheer size, 36″ by 36″. I know that it’s a piece that my eyes keep coming back to during the day as I am working in the studio and with each look comes a deep and satisfying pang.

Pang.

I don’t know what that even means except that it feels good.

I guess it also means that it feels right and true.

Core. Essential.

I just feel a pang inside, in that area between my head and my heart, when I look at it.

Aurae is the plural of aura and it refers to the pale blue aurae that runs around each cloud. These blue aurae were actually never meant to be so visible. They were meant to be a step to another upcoming layer (or layers) that would have undoubtedly altered the final painting from what you are seeing. But once they were in place, they suddenly made the piece jump to life. The whole piece seemed to speak at that point and I knew I couldn’t cover these aurae with more paint.

But aurae also refers to the general atmosphere that surrounds the central Red Tree here. It’s an atmosphere of completeness, of self-knowledge.  Or as Thoreau said in the words at the top, of knowing where you truly are as a human.

I am going to stop talking about it. The more I write, the less I seem to be saying.

Let’s just go with pang.

 

The Loser

Ah, this little bit of  Shel Silverstein feels just about right on a Friday the 13th morning.

There’s certainly some truth in there somewhere. Maybe it’s that we are all looking for something we feel is missing and all the time, it’s there in plain sight. Or it would be if we weren’t sitting on our heads.

Keep your heads on today, folks.

When you think of painting as painting it is rather absurd. The real world is before us – glorious sunlight and activity and fresh air, and high speed motor cars and television, all the animation – a world apart from a little square of canvas that you smear paint on.

–Wayne Thiebaud

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These words from the great contemporary painter Wayne Thiebaud ring completely true for me. I have talked and written many times before about those moments in the studio when I suddenly find the whole idea of painting, of smearing paint on some surface, completely absurd. The whole idea of making these two-dimensional things that represent inner feelings about the outer world seems suddenly abstract and, to be honest, a little ridiculous.

It’s a little like waking up one day to find yourself standing in your yard with a forked stick in your hand. You began by thinking it was a divining rod that would mysteriously lead you to something valuable but in that moment you realize you’re just a fool standing in your yard with a stick.

Believe me, there are days when I feel like a fool standing in a room with a stick in my hands. Of course, my stick has bristles with paint on them but it might as well just be a stick in those moments.

But somehow that feeling passes and I find myself immersed back in my own little world and that stick returns to being a divining rod.

Wayne Thiebaud has long been a favorite of mine.  Most people associate his name with his paintings of  cakes, ice cream and confections with their bold colors and beautiful thick brushstrokes. They are wonderful but for me, his most striking work are his landscapes, often set from a high perspective.  They have such great color and their compositions feel as much like abstraction as they do realism.

Just plain good stuff.

I always feel inspired by this work, moving me to try to find that same balance in my own work.

Here’s a video of his confectionery works, which is, as I said, his more popular work. I haven’t found video with his landscapes but this is still a good intro to his best known work.

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