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Posts Tagged ‘Alexandria VA’

GC Myers- Shelter in Place 2020

My annual solo show of new works opens today at the Principle Gallery in Old Town Alexandria. This year’s show, my 21st there, is titled Social Distancing which very well describes the distance between me sitting in my studio this morning and the show hanging in the gallery down in Virginia. Now, that’s real social distancing.

It feels disconnected and strange to not be at an opening tonight and still be writing about it from the studio. But we are in the strangest days of recent times so I guess it’s only fitting that any event, particularly one titled Social Distancing, is not spared.

I think the duality of this idea– work about separation that seeks connection– is right in line with the message of much of my work throughout the years. The work has always focused on the distances of our world while still seeking to find closeness and connection.

Home, as it might be called.

Though I still haven’t yet seen the work on the walls of the gallery, I feel that this is a strong group. Strange times often bring out certain strengths and aspects of people. And art, at its best, reflects humanity. I believe this group is reflective of that.

I think it is authentic and human. Joyfully imperfect.

I hope you get a chance to get into the Principle Gallery to see Social Distancing. For those of you who can’t make it there, below is the catalog for the show. Thanks!

Be safe and have a great day.

 

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In my picture of the world there is a vast outer realm and an equally vast inner realm; between these two stands man, facing now one and now the other, and, according to temperament and disposition, taking the one for the absolute truth by denying or sacrificing the other.

–Carl Jung

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My annual show at the Principle Gallery each June is normally made up of solely new work. But I think we can all agree that this year is anything but normal. There’s been a little bit of everything thrown at us. I think that if a swarm of Bigfoots — or is it Bigfeet?— suddenly descended upon us from every mountaintop, we would just shrug it off as being just the next shoe to drop.

So, this being such an unusual year, I chose to change things up a bit and include a group of vintage pieces of my work in this year’s show. My only criteria was that they had some sort of link to the theme of the show which is, as the title states, Social Distancing.

Many of us are new to the concept of social distancing but for me it’s something I’ve been practicing for much of my life, even if I didn’t use that particular phrase. I have, especially for the last twenty five years, kept to myself, more or less. I have tried to simultaneously live in two worlds, the outer and the inner. Much like the view Jung takes in the words above, I have tried to straddle both of these worlds and have found that Jung’s observation is pretty close to the bone. The more and more time I spend in that inner world, the more real and expansive it becomes. I then find myself willing to sacrifice more and more of my connections to the outer world.

Reading that last paragraph just now, I realize that it doesn’t sound exactly healthy.  But even so, it seems to suit my temperament and disposition, to use Jung’s words again. Plus, in my inner world, it’s not considered unhealthy.

Two of the vintage paintings from this show that I think relate directly to this straddling of worlds are shown here today. The one at the top is a piece called Flower Shadow, that was painted back in June of 1995, twenty five years ago. It was never shown publicly but was always a favorite when I went through my older work, a piece that always made me stop for a few extra moments to consider it.

While part of me is attracted to it because of how it connects me to that early work, there’s something in it that speaks directly to me. Maybe it’s the idea of this rough flower, inside looking wistfully out a window. Living in two worlds, the inner and the outer, with an air of lightly wistful melancholy around it. It still speaks clearly to me, twenty five years later.

The other vintage piece is from ten years later, in 2005, and is from a limited series from that time that I called In the Window, which featured interior spaces with a window looking out on a landscape, which was the focal point of these pieces. This particular painting, In the Window: Dream Away, shown here on the right, was one of the first from that series.

Initially, this series was intended as a means to present my landscapes in a different way, like placing a gem in a different setting in order to highlight that gem. But as time passed, this concept of two worlds became more apparent to me in this work. I believe this particular piece, with its clarity and clean expression, exemplifies both of those concepts, the gem in a new setting and the being existing in two worlds.

I am really pleased to show these pieces now, though I do not being able to get some in person reactions like those normally received at a reception. But, as noted, these are not normal times so I will just put them out there and hope they speak clearly for themselves.

Hope you can make it to the Principle Gallery in Alexandria for Social Distancing, my annual solo show that opens there this Friday, June 5.

 

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Aah, the work was delivered to the Principle Gallery yesterday for the show, Social Distancing, that opens this coming Friday, June 5, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria.

I say aah because there is always a sense of relief once the work has left my hands and is in the gallery. I’ve done what I can and it’s out of my hands.

But the aah this year might be even larger than in any other year. Completing this year’s show was hard fought struggle within myself. The number of distractions was huge as you all know. It has been a trying time for all of us between an impeachment, a pandemic that has delivered over 100 thousand deaths thus far not to mention vast job losses and an economic uncertainty that most certainly see us in a recession, if a depression, for the coming years along with the violent eruption of a long simmering volcano of unequal justice and economic opportunity for people of color. Factor into that a money grab by the wealthiest among us from the pandemic relief funds and you have a hot and messy stew cooking.

This might well be a year without parallel in the memories of most of us and maybe in the history of this country. We are a nation at great stress right now.

So to get my little bit of business out of the way, to be able to push all this aside and do work that was strong and meaningful in my own eyes was a different sort of task than in any of the previous 21 years of doing this show. Maybe the show of 2002, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, would be the closest parallel but that at that time we didn’t have a deadly virus or the same sort of raw internal rips in our society that we are experiencing now as a nation. In retrospect, that time seemed like a light appetizer for the heavy meal, that hot and messy stew, on our table at this moment.

But, as far the show, it is there now and I think it’s a damn fine show. I can’t think of a piece in it that that I would want to omit or change. I think every painting in it has its own strength that shows. I hope you will get a chance to get into the gallery to see it or at least take a look at the exhibit document from the Principle Gallery when it’s released in a few days.

I have to say that another bit of relief was the great ease I experienced in the delivery yesterday. In the many, many trips down to Alexandria I have made over the past 23 years, yesterday was by far the easiest ride I have ever made. The traffic was exceedingly light and the weather absolutely perfect. The delivery itself went smoothly and quickly. Every aspect of the day was easy.

I came home, as usual through central Pennsylvania. If you don’t know the area, the route runs above Harrisburg along the Susquehanna River, and is a lovely area with a rural feel marked by the farms and horse-drawn buggies of the many Amish and Mennonite farmers along the way. But it is also a deeply conservative area, a hotbed of far right ideology. Lots of guns, pickups and camo clothing. Lots of evangelical billboards and, strangely,quite a few weird little, windowless porn shops that always seem to have more than a few cars in front of them.

It’s a big Trump area. Yeah, I wrote that name– can taste the ashes in my mouth. Some businesses have it scrawled across the face of their buildings and you see quite a few of his campaign signs . There was even one guy, with a big gut and a tight white tee shirt, selling Trump merchandise by the side of the busy road. No buyers when I passed him, thankfully. But one thing I noticed in a few places were signs in the neighboring yards of those the yards that had Trump signs. The signs simply said “Be Kind” as though these neighbors wanted to somehow counter the meaning that was implicit in the signs of their neighbors.

That small gesture gave me the slightest glimpse of hope.

Coming home, I came through Lewisburg, a town that is best known as the home of Bucknell University. Coming into town after passing Bucknell, I came to traffic light at the intersection of the two main roads running through the area.  At each of the four corners there were quite a few people gathered holding signs and gesturing to the traffic. Coming to a stop at the red light, I realized that it was a Black Lives Matter protest, much like the other protests taking place around the nation.

It was a diverse group with many white faces– this is central PA, after all– but a large number of people of color as well. They were peaceful and wore their masks and kept distance as well as they could. I gave them the thumbs up and many returned the gesture. As I drove away I gave a young black woman the thumbs up and she gave me a clenched fist held high above her head in response.

I can’t tell you how much those small gestures made my day. That group of peaceful protesters in such a conservative part of that state gave me the hope that there might be real change ahead for us as a nation, that we will push past this moment and vanquish the forces of division and inequality that are at work right now.

Maybe that’s what the painting at the top reflects. Part of the show, it’s a 10″ by 20″ canvas that is called And the Clouds Will Pass…

That’s how I want to see it.

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I started writing an angry screed here about the whiny, weak Karen occupying the white house and all the Karens who take their cues from his persistent behaviors of entitlement and victimization, about how it enables more and more racism and hate.

But I had to stop. It was making me too crazy. And most likely you didn’t come here to read my morning rant.

Let’s move on to something more in line with the premise of this blog: Art.

So, let me talk a little about my upcoming show, Social Distancing, that opens next Friday, June 5, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. Normally, I would be adding the times for the opening reception on that day but due to the covid-19 restrictions, there won’t be a regular reception. I know I wouldn’t be comfortable in such a setting at this point and can imagine that most of you would equally uneasy in a crowd as well.

It’s a weird feeling, having such a show and not being there to interact with the people who come to see the work. This is my 21st solo show at the Principle Gallery and something like my 56th or 57th solo exhibit overall and I have attended the opening of all of them. It’s a chance to talk about the work with new and existing collectors, to catch up with folks who have been attending the shows for years and to spend a little time with my friends in the gallery. I get a lot of great feedback and enthusiasm from these receptions and often bring that back with me into the studio.

so not having that same experience this year certainly feels like a palpable loss.

In the beginning, thinking that this was a possibility ( and the pandemic itself) made it difficult to find focus for the show. But as I adapted to the new circumstances, I found a nice groove, seeing parallels between the current situation and the themes that are the mainstays of my work. Solitude and quietude set against an underlying uneasiness are regular themes in my work and they came to the forefront for the general population, even fr those not seeking solitude or isolation.

I think much of the new work for this show speaks to this situation well.

I also felt that this was a perfect time to include a group of what I call vintage work, a group of early paintings that date from before I was publicly showing my work in the mid-1990’s up to to about 2007. The thought was that they would serve as a before to the after of the current work since we are going through a time that will certainly leave us with memories of what thing were before this and how things will be after. The time just seemed right to offer this work.

Two of those pieces are shown here, both watercolors from the early part of 1995. The one at the top of this page is called View From the Lonely Steps. It is a good example of my early work and the cobalt blue watercolor in the sky does a neat and lovely job of settling in the depressions of the paper, an effect I very much like.The steps that make up the left side of the foreground forms a close mound that creates an illusion of depth and are some of the earliest use of that element in my work. It’s something I use on a regular basis in my compositions now. I also noted on the sheet of watercolor paper on which it is painted that I painted it on April 1 of that year. I don’t date things like that anymore but it was common for me to do so back then. I like having that date. It gives it greater context for me, as far as where it comes in the continuum of my work, which makes me think I should reinstate this practice.

The piece at the bottom is from January of 1995 and is called I Can’t Remember the Moment. This is another fine example of the style of work that marked my early days with two blocks of color set one above the other separated by a thin white unpainted strip. It is simply put and lets the two forms and the effects of and in their colors play off each other. At the point that this piece was painted I was still signing the pieces in pencil, albeit in the same style that I have used for my whole career.

Though I have gained experience and ability well beyond that which I possessed then, there was something pure and real in the simple expression of these pieces that I can’t replicate now. My joy and wonder is expressed in different terms now and find myself envying this work, recalling the excitement that came with the new discoveries revealed to me as they were painted. I still get those feelings now but they are more hard fought for now and more sporadic. Back then they felt as though they came on an almost daily basis, each giving me an almost giddy feeling as though I had uncovered some great secret treasure.

That feeling is so wonderful and so hard to get across, let alone find. But these pieces are filled with that feeling for me.

Hope you will get a chance to see these pieces at the Principle Gallery.

Finally, an apology to all the Karens I know. It is unfortunate that your name has became a social media buzzword for spoiled, ugly, hateful, entitled, and stupid behavior. I know several Karens and Karyns and they do not display these behaviors at all. I wouldn’t want to know them if they did.

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I don’t know much about sailing. I do know the difference between port and starboard but that’s just mnemonics — port has four letters like left.

But I don’t know a sloop from a schooner, a ketch from a cutter. Can barely tie my shoelaces let alone some intricate nautical knot. Never felt the spray from the waves and can only imagine the feeling of being out in the middle of the sea, alone with only a sail and the rhythm of the currents to move me.

But the lure and romance of the sailboat and the act of sailing is not lost on me. The idea of attuning oneself to the awesome natural power and grace of the waves is an enticing proposition and just watching a skilled sailor handle a boat, even from the shore, is fascinating.

It’s all there, the same elements that I most often use in my landscape paintings. Natural power and high domes of sky. Wide horizons with the rhythms of the landscape replaced by the rhythms of the waves. The same sort of quietude and focus. A sense of purpose.

I think that’s what makes my sail boat paintings some of my favorites to paint. They are a chance to exercise my own imagination in trying to envision the experience of riding the rhythms of the ocean. I have been thrilled over the years when those folks who can call themselves sailors tell me how much they like these pieces. Makes me think I must be getting some aspect of it right, even if it only comes from my imagination.

The piece above is from my upcoming show, Social Distancing, that opens June 5 at the Principle Gallery. I call this painting, a 17″ by 17″ piece on paper, Running on Rhythm. Hopefully it feels right in some way for my sailing friends.

Here’s a song that is not really about sailing but it uses sailin’ in its title and chorus and is just a song that sticks with me. The song is Sailin’ Shoes from Little Feat. I am including two versions, both sung by the late great Lowell George. The first is the original from their 1972 album of the same name, a slower bluesy version. The second is from their incredible 1978 live album, Waiting For Columbus, who was by all accounts a sailor. This version is a bit more raucous and unrestrained. I like both.

Give a listen and have a good day.

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“I told myself: ‘I am surrounded by unknown things.’ I imagined man without ears, suspecting the existence of sound as we suspect so many hidden mysteries, man noting acoustic phenomena whose nature and provenance he cannot determine. And I grew afraid of everything around me – afraid of the air, afraid of the night. From the moment we can know almost nothing, and from the moment that everything is limitless, what remains? Does emptiness actually not exist? What does exist in this apparent emptiness?”

Guy de Maupassant, The Horla

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This is another new piece, a smaller painting on paper that is part of my Social Distancing show that opens June 5 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. I am calling this piece The Emptiness.

The title is taken from The Horla, one of the last short stories written by Guy de Maupassant, the 19th century French master of the short story. It’s a tale of horror about an alien being — an invisible organism, actually– called the Horla that comes to earth with the intention of subjugating the human race. This unseen invader has the power to enter and sway the minds of its victims. The narrator of the story describes his emotions, the vast emptiness that overtakes him, as he realizes what is happening and his powerlessness in the face of the threat.

A few years later, tragically, de Maupassant tried to commit suicide by slitting his own throat but survived, dying in a sanitarium a year later, in 1893 at the age of 42. Apparently, the emptiness of the story’s narrator was very much the same emptiness as that of  the writer.

I thought this painting would fit well into this particular show, which is concerned with social isolation, from that which has been caused by the pandemic to all other forms of isolation. For some, isolation can bring solitude. For others, it brings the emptiness that de Maupassant described.

This painting leans toward that form of isolation. Maybe it’s the bilious green of the interior walls or the spare details of the room. Or the looming moon seen through the window, a large alien eye always there, always watching.

It feels like an unusual piece for me, even though it fits neatly into my body of work. It feels complete and there’s a pleasant, even comfortable, feel to it. But it’s an uneasy comfort, maybe like that experienced by those whose minds have unknowingly been infected by the Horla.

Or maybe it’s the uneasiness that comes with the normalization and acceptance, by a lot of people, of behavior that was once considered repulsive by the majority of us. It feels like the same kind of infection of the mind is taking place. Watching this take place now must surely be like the experience of the narrator watching the Horla affect those around him.

It certainly creates its own emptiness.

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“When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.”

Wisława Szymborska, Poems New and Collected

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“When I pronounce the word Silence, I destroy it…”

I love that line from the late Nobel Prize winning poet Wisława Szymborska. It so well sums up my own forays into writing as a young man when I found myself trying futilely to write about silence and places of silence. My words always seemed to defeat my purpose.

You can’t really write about silence.

Using words to describe silence is like using hate to demonstrate love or war to peace.  It doesn’t really work well.

No, you can’t write about silence.

You can only be silent.

Silence is a way of being.

That brings me to the painting shown above called Song of Silence.

This painting, Song of Silence, is being included along with a small group of vintage pieces in my upcoming show, Social Distancing, that opens at the Principle Gallery on June 5. Most of the early work for this show comes the mid 1990’s but this is the latest of the vintage pieces, from 2007.

It is a fairly large piece at 32″ x 32″ on paper and its size seems to accentuate its quietness. I did a number of similar pieces in the mid 2000’s and they were some of my favorites to paint. There was something special in the delicacy and restraint of these pieces. Their simplicity would lead you to believe they were simple to paint but capturing such an ephemeral feelings with minimal elements made them real challenges. Anything even slightly askew could make the whole thing fall apart.

For me personally, when these pieces worked, when they came together in that special way, they felt like magic. They transported me to a different state of being, to that place of silence, if only for a few short moments.

This is one of those pieces for me.

It’s been quite a while since I exhibited this type of work and I am eager to see what sort of response this brings in the gallery.  We’ll see.

The title, Song of Silence, seems like it might contradict my words at the beginning of this post but wordless music often has the ability to convey silence. As an example I am including a selection below from one of my favorite pieces of music, Tabula Rasa, from composer Arvo Pärt that I believe does this effectively. This music, as performed by violinist Gil Shaham, served as a large influence on much of my early work.

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I am putting the finishing touches on the work for my upcoming show, Social Distancing, that opens June 5 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. In addition to the new works, I am putting together a small group of what I would call vintage work, early paintings from the 1990’s and a couple from the early 2000’s. Most of these haven’t been shown in over twenty years, if they have even been shown at all. I chose this time to share these pieces because I felt they fit well with the theme of this show, which is the isolation brought on by the covid-19 crisis.

The piece at the top is one that I am still trying to decide if it will be part of the show. It’s called Dance of Joy from 1996. It has been hanging in my studios for over twenty years now, from my first rustic studio that is in the process of being absorbed into the forest floor to my current more spacious and well appointed digs.

You wouldn’t think that you would include a piece called Dance of Joy in a show devoted to social distancing but I think you have to include the more hopeful and happy aspects, as well. After all, those moments still exist for most of us even in this state of suspended animation in which we now exist. The things that brought me joy before this still bring me joy now and almost all of them don’t depend on any changes in my form of isolation.

But beyond that aspect, I found an interpretation in the painting that I am sure wasn’t intended when it was first painted. I think at that time I saw the trees as dancers celebrating the rise of the red sun in a bacchanalian manner. But looking at this piece yesterday, I saw it an the dance of joy when we finally overcome the virus, that time when we find a way to safely control and manage, if not eradicate, it. I saw the red disc not as a sun or a moon on the rise but as the virus on the decline.

That will bring a time for dances of joy, a time to celebrate those times of shared communal enjoyment.

Until that time, we must be patient and careful in order to contain the damages and the deaths caused by this virus. But we can still do our dances of joy until we experience that real bacchanal that will hopefully come sooner than later.

For this Sunday morning’s musical selection, I am turning to the world of Klezmer music and the acclaimed clarinetist Giora Feidman.  Feidman is an Argentine born Israeli who is considered the King of Klezmer.  He was chosen by Steven Spielberg to perform the clarinet solos for his film Schindler’s List. The song I have chosen is titled, The Dance of Joy. But you knew that, right?

I love the infectious ( bad choice of word) energy of klezmer and this song has it at its highest level. I can see the trees in this painting moving wildly to this music. So, give a listen and try to find some moments of joy today, something that makes you do your own dance of joy. Have a good day.

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“True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written, in writing what deserves to be read, and in so living as to make the world happier and better for our living in it.”

― Pliny the Elder

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A couple of days ago I showed a painting in progress, at a point where I believe it had taken on its life force. Even though it was far from complete, it was already exuding some sort of energy.

I can’t speak for other artists but for me, that’s always a great feeling. It energizes the process, makes me eager to see it through, to discover what its final phase will reveal. There’s a sense of gliding. It feels easy and smooth with little resistance, nothing to stop you from soaring forward.

Believe me when I say this is not normally the case. No, it’s not always gliding through a cool sky. Sometimes the process is a slow trudging march forward in the pouring rain. There are multiple periods in the process where  everything goes flat and dull, including my own enthusiasm for continuing, and there seems to be no satisfying end in sight.

But the strange thing is that often both of these paths– the soaring as well as the slogging– come to the same final point. Both often result in a piece that speaks on its own, that has its own life, its own energy.

They just get there via different routes.

The beauty in both ways is that both are energizing for me. The easy way, such as this painting followed, excites me and inspires me, throwing me instantly into my next work.

It’s joyful.

The slog, on the other hand, reinforces me. It builds the confidence that I can go deep within myself and get past the next obstacle I face. To just keep moving ahead.

It’s satisfying.

This piece was, as I said, easy. It excited me and inspired me from its very beginning. There’s a cleanness in its energy, its colors and forms clear and easily read. Graceful. The inspiration I felt in painting it hangs to it still. As does its joyful feeling.

It’s what I hope for in all my work.

I call this piece In Gaudium Mundi.

The joy in the world.

It’s an 18″ by 36″ canvas that will be part of my Social Distancing show at the Principle Gallery that opens in June at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA.

Have a great day.

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When the gates swing wide on the other side
Just beyond the sunset sea
There’ll be room to spare as we enter there
Room for you and room for me
For the gates are wide on the other side
Where the flowers ever bloom
On the right hand on the left hand
Fifty miles of elbow room

50 Miles of Elbow Room, Herbert Buffum

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I have always longed for elbow room.

Huge arching domes of clear air above.

Wide open spaces for the eye to search.

Soundless vistas with not a soul to be seen.

The elbow room I long for is not that described in the lyrics of the 1930 gospel song, 50 Miles of Elbow Room, from songwriter Herbert Buffum. His version of elbow room is a placid paradise in the hereafter

Ideally, I don’t have to die to find my sought after elbow room. Of course, finding such a place might entail a little imagination along with a willingness to accept that this elbow room most likely will be located inside oneself.

Maybe that’s what I am trying to uncover with my work.

Elbow room. At least, my own little bits of elbow room.

The painting at the top is such a piece. It’s part of my aptly titled show, Social Distancing, that is still planned to open on June 5 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. There is some doubt as to whether there will be an actual physical opening reception but there will be a show hung to be viewed so long there is– wait for it– social distancing.

This painting is titled Elbow Room, of course. It’s a return of sorts to my earlier work of the early and mid 2000’s, painted in the transparent inks I favor on paper. In a way, painting it felt like it was something inherent. Built in. Natural, like coming home, like a circle being completed.

For me, this is the hardest work to judge. It’s like looking at old family photos. You don’t look at the faces and apprise them for attractiveness or ugliness. You just see them for what you know them to be, for what they mean to you. How the outside world sees them is not important.

And this certainly feels like a family photo for me.

So, on this Sunday morning, let’s hear a bit of that song, 50 Miles of Elbow Room. I couldn’t find the original from Vaughan Happy Two. The two most significant versions are a gospel version from the Rev. F.W. McGee in 1933 and a traditional folk version from the Carter Family in 1942. The song I am playing today owes its influence to the Carter Family. It’s performed by a favorite of mine, Gillian Welch.

Have a good Sunday. Hope you find some elbow room for yourself, if that’s what you want.

 

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