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Posts Tagged ‘Baucis and Philemon’

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“After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her.”

― Mark Twain, Diaries of Adam & Eve

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This is another painting, 20″ by 34″ on wood panel, from my show at the West End Gallery which opens next week. This painting is titled Conubialis, which is basically Latin for marriage. Its pronunciation more or less sounds like connubial bliss which I suppose is the most desired state of marriage. As someone who has been married for eons, it sure presents a far more positive scenario than wedded rancor.

This would be considered one of my Baucis and Philemon paintings, which I first did a decade ago ( they recently celebrated their twentieth) for a couple celebrating the tenth anniversary of their own wedding. It is based on the Greek myth of the aged poor couple who welcome Zeus and Hermes into their humble home. The gods had been unceremoniously rebuffed by the wealthier residents of the village and Zeus was ready to ravage the place. But he was moved by the charity and generosity exhibited to the guests, as well as the love the elderly couple displayed for each other. After their visit, when Zeus  brought devastation to the village, he spared their home and granted them two wishes. For the first, he transformed their home into a temple where they lived out the rest of their lives. For the second wish, for which they asked that they remain together for eternity, Zeus made it so that when they died each became separate trees growing from a single trunk  that would live forever on a hill overlooking the village.

It’s a lovely story and I really enjoy painting these pieces with their interwoven trees. This one in particular was a joy. It had a richness and glow from the beginning that it maintained throughout the process which is a rarity. Usually, there are phases in the process of each painting where everything dulls and goes flat. But this painting came to life immediately and it maintains that glow on the wall now.

I came across the words from Mark Twain ( who wrote many of his books not too far from here) and they seemed to be the right gravity for this piece. Plus, they seemed to match up with the feel of the painting which has its own Garden of Eden thing working for it.

I was also thinking of using one from the ever witty P.G. Wodehouse who wrote in his story, Mostly Sally, concerning marriage : “And she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.”

That made me laugh but I could see, even with my pea sized brain, that there was a grain of truth in it. Ideally, a relationship that lasts becomes a true union, much like those twisting trees, where each brings to it strengths that fills in for the others weaknesses.

So, maybe both quotes work equally well for this piece. But even without the words, I am finding myself continuing to enjoy the glow from this piece.

All I could ask from it.

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Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

Leonard Cohen, Dance Me to the End of Love

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The painting above, 8″ by 16″ on canvas, is a smaller piece headed to my upcoming solo show at the West End Gallery. The intertwined trees in this piece refer back to my Baucis and Philemon paintings which are are symbolic representations of the Greek myth of the poor elderly couple who show the god Zeus unlimited kindness when he shows up in their village dressed as a beggar. He spares their lives alone when he destroys the village and rewards them with an eternity bound together as two trees on a hill.

This piece definitely reminds me of the tale. Maybe it’s the deep and dark threat that is posed from the clouds. Perhaps these clouds represent the wrath of Zeus while the clearing sky on the horizon represents eternity.

I don’t know for sure.

But it is a striking piece, one that is very simple to take in yet has the depth I want for it.

I am calling it Dance Me to the End of Love after the song chosen for this Sunday morning music. It is from Leonard Cohen from 1984. Interestingly, the song has Greek roots, its composition following that of a Greek folk dance performed through the centuries by members of the butcher’s guilds. It is often referred to as the Hasapiko, translating to the Butcher’s Dance.

So, give a listen. Have a good day, okay?

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Moments and Color, my annual solo exhibit at the West End Gallery in Corning, NY, opens on Friday, July 12 with an opening reception running from 5-7:30 PM. It is, as always, open to the public.

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A few weeks back, we had the pleasure of seeing a series of three one-man shows at the Shaw Festival in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. They were written and performed by writer/actor/comedian Stephen Fry who you may better recognize from his longtime partnership with Hugh Laurie (House) in the comedy team Fry and Laurie.

The performances were based on Fry’s recent book Mythos which contains his droll retelling of the classical Greek myths. The shows were divided into different segments: God, Heroes, and Men. God dealt with the stories of Zeus and the other surrounding gods. Heroes dealt with the epic tales of Odysseus, Heracles and Theseus. The final show, Men, told the stories of men and their interactions with the gods. All were highly entertaining.

I was pleasantly surprised that during Men, Fry chose to tell the tale of Baucis and Philemon, a story that I have retold here a number of times and one which I also have used as the basis of a series of paintings over the last several years, including not too long ago with a favorite of mine, Nuptiae. It is the story of an old couple in a poor town who share their hospitality with Zeus and Hermes who have been treated poorly by all the other townspeople.

Fry’s retelling had a bit of a different ending than the version I knew, one that I believe is based more on that from Ovid and his Metamorphoses. In the version I know, the ending is a bit happier with the couple living out their lives together as priests in the temple of Zeus and together in death as two separate trees– a linden and an oak– growing from a single trunk.

Fry’s is a bit harsher, related in many ways to the biblical story of Lot and his wife. In Fry’s retelling, Zeus tells Baucis and Philemon that they shall be spared from the terrible wrath he is setting loose upon the other townsfolk. He instructs them to walk up the hill and not turn back. But hearing the great storm and the horrible sounds coming from the village, they agree to turn back to look together, whereupon they are transformed into linden and oak trees, much as Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt.

I still prefer the version I first knew but it was great to hear a variation on this story. That is the beauty of storytelling and art– it takes what we believe we know and reflects it back at us in a different and sometimes revelatory manner.

The painting at the top is a new painting from my West End Gallery show that opens tomorrow, Friday, July 13. Titled The Belonging, it is a 36″ by 24″ painting on canvas that is my most recent interpretation of the Baucis and Philemon myth– the version I knew before the Mythos shows.

These pieces may be my favorite to paint. The intent to paint them, that beginning point in their creation, has a certain feeling that pleases me and sets the tone for the whole piece. The paintings that spring from this starting point seldom disappoint me or fall short of what I hope to see. This piece very much lived up to the story for me and is one that never failed to stop and make me look when it was with me in the studio. The combination of the story and the colors, shapes and textures of the painting come together, for me at least.

Hope you can come out and see for yourself at the West End.

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There are a few paintings in my show, Haven, which opens on Friday at the Principle Gallery, that feature intertwined trees. One such piece, a 24″ by 30″ canvas titled Nuptiae, is shown above.

It’s a motif that I have used a number of times over many years. I have always liked the manner in which climbing vines embrace embrace their host trees. There’s often a sensuous physicality in the curves and bends of their united trunks that makes it easy to see them in human terms. This human equivalency is something I have tried to pull out of my landscapes. Early on, this was the simple basis for the handful of intertwined trees paintings I created.

But I received a request for a commission that changed the meaning of these paintings for me. A couple was about to celebrate their tenth anniversary and wanted a painting to mark the occasion. They shared an affinity for the Greek myth of Baucis and Philemon and wanted the painting to reflect the tale’s tone and moral.

Nuptiae, at the top, is my most recent interpretation of the story. It’s a painting that was nothing but a pleasure to paint, one of those pieces that fall off the brush almost on their own and every move made feels right. Even so, the final result exceeded what I saw for it when I first envisioned it.

Below is what I wrote back in 2010. It’s a simple retelling of the myth as I know it.

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I often get requests for commissioned work but usually am not excited by the prospect of being dictated to in the creation of my work, actually turning down many that get too specific in their requirements. I want my paintings to reflect my thought process and emotion as well as my craft. As a result, I have an informal set of rules that let me have free rein in the creation of the work so that the painting is allowed to form in an organic way. Not forced, which often takes away the vitality of many pieces, in my opinion. 

But this particular request is unlike many others that I receive. They want this piece to relate the story of the classic myth of Baucis and Philemon, which is the tale of a poor but happy couple who are unknowingly visited by Zeus and Hermes disguised as dusty travelers. Beggars, actually. 

Coming into their village earlier, the two gods had went door to door among their neighbors seeking hospitality and were rebuffed in every attempt, often with harsh words. Zeus became angry as door after door was slammed in his face. Finally, they came to the door of the shack of Baucis and Philemon, by far the poorest looking home in the village. 

Upon knocking, they were greeted warmly by an elderly couple who welcomed them in to their impoverished but clean home and treated them with what little they had in the way of food and drink. They were gracious and hospitable, seeking to give comfort to the strangers. As the night wore on, the couple, who had been serving their simple wine to the travelers from a pitcher, noticed that the pitcher stayed full even after many pours. They began to suspect that these were not mere beggars but were, in fact, gods. 

They apologized to the gods for not having much to put before them then offered to catch their prized goose, which was really a pet, and cook it for them. The old couple chased the goose around the shack until finally the frightened creature found sanctuary on the laps of the gods. Stroking the now safe goose, Zeus then informed them of their identities and, after complimenting them on their hospitality and speaking of the mean-spiritedness of their neighbors, instructed the couple to follow them.

They climbed upon a rise where Zeus told them to stop and look back. Where once their town had stood was nothing but water from a deluge that had washed away everything including all the townsfolk who had insulted Zeus. From where their poor home had been, a majestic golden-roofed temple with sparkling marble pillars rose from the receding waters. 

Zeus told the couple that this would be their new home and asked what wish he could grant them. They asked that they be made priests, guardians of this temple and that they should always remain together until the ends of their lives. Seeing their obvious love for each other, Zeus readily agreed. The couple lived for many more years together, reaching a prodigious age.

One day they stood together in their old age and all the past moments from their life and love together flooded over them. Baucis saw leaves and limbs sprouting from Philemon and realized that the same thing was happening to her. Standing on the plain outside the temple, they transformed into two trees, an oak and a linden, that grew from the same trunk, their limbs intertwined, eternally together. 

That’s a simple re-telling of the tale but I think you can see why this couple might want a symbol of this story to mark their time together…

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GC Myers- Far Above It All smThis is a new painting, a 20″ by 24″ canvas , that is called Above It All, part of the show opening December 5th at the Kada Gallery.  I felt from the time this painting was complete that with its intertwining tree set apart from the village below that it was about some form of love.  But what sort of love and how to describe it in words?
It seemed like a from of eternal love, one bound together through time, much like that in the myth of Baucis and Philemon that I have described here on  several occasions.  But I thought I would look to the words of someone else to perhaps give a new perspective on what I was seeing in this.

That brought me to the poems of Rupert Brooke, the British poet who was just in his ascension as a major poetic voice when he died at the age of 27 in 1915.  He was in the British naval forces of WW I on the way to Gallipoli  when he developed sepsis from an infected mosquito bite.   He was buried in an olive grove on the Greek island of Skyros.   An odd casualty of the war but still a casualty that deprived the world of what might have come from his hand.

The poem of Brooke’s that hit me the most fitting for this piece was one titled The Call, written when he was only about 20 years old.  It has the intensity of youthful love, like a flaming torch held high.  And that’s what I see in this painting.  So, if you can tolerate poetry, and I know some can’t, give a read to the verses below from Rupert Brooke.  It’s powerful and straightforward. And fitting, or so I think.

                      The Call

Out of the nothingness of sleep,
The slow dreams of Eternity,
There was a thunder on the deep:
I came, because you called to me.

I broke the Night’s primeval bars,
I dared the old abysmal curse,
And flashed through ranks of frightened stars
Suddenly on the universe!

The eternal silences were broken;
Hell became Heaven as I passed. —
What shall I give you as a token,
A sign that we have met, at last?

I’ll break and forge the stars anew,
Shatter the heavens with a song;
Immortal in my love for you,
Because I love you, very strong.

Your mouth shall mock the old and wise,
Your laugh shall fill the world with flame,
I’ll write upon the shrinking skies
The scarlet splendour of your name,

Till Heaven cracks, and Hell thereunder
Dies in her ultimate mad fire,
And darkness falls, with scornful thunder,
On dreams of men and men’s desire.

Then only in the empty spaces,
Death, walking very silently,
Shall fear the glory of our faces
Through all the dark infinity.

So, clothed about with perfect love,
   The eternal end shall find us one,
Alone above the Night, above
   The dust of the dead gods, alone.

            -Rupert Brooke

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GC Myers- Forever and EverI am heading out to Erie later this morning for tonight’s opening reception for my show, Alchemy, at the Kada Gallery.  While I am always a bit nervous beefore any of these solo shows, the ride out to Erie generally has a calming effect.  It is a simple and quiet  ride through rural western New York on a highway that sometimes feels deserted, with hardly another car appearing at certain points.  The landscape is a mix of rolling hills that skirt the Allegheny National Forest before leveling off into a plain that runs to the Great Lakes, Lake Erie in this case.  It is sparsely populated and airily wide open.  I think this is an image of New York that would surprise many people. I know that it’s a ride that always has a calming effect for me.

The painting, Forever and Ever,  above is a small piece, 6″ by 6″ on paper, that is include in this show.  It is another take on the Baucis and Philemon myth that I have described here several times in the past.  I really like the vivid tones of the sky and the landscape here.  They seem to give it the other-worldly feel that I think fits the story of the fated couple.

Here’s a little music that  has the calm that I anticipate on my drive westward.  It’s  You Don’t Know What Love Is from two of my favorites, Elvis Costello and the late great Chet Baker.  I hope to see you tonight if you’re in the Erie area and can come out to the Kada Gallery.  Kathy and Joe DeAngelo, the owners of the Kada, are wonderful hosts.  See you tonight!

 

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GC Myers- The Eternal Gift At last week’s Gallery Talk at the West End Gallery, there was a question about the painting shown here, The Eternal Gift.  The questioner  wanted about the two different colors for the foliage in the trees, especially since I seldom use green in my central trees.  I explained that this how I chose to translate the story of Baucis and Philemon from Greek mythology, one of my favorite stories.  I gave a quick synopsis of the story explaining that I first used this imagery of two different trees entwining and growing together  to illustrate this tale a few years ago a when I was commissioned to do so by a couple celebrating their anniversary.

I thought I would take this opportunity to relate the story again here, as I wrote about it back in 2010:

I often get requests for commissioned work but usually am not excited by the prospect of being dictated to in the creation of my work, actually turning down many that get too specific in their requirements. I want my paintings to reflect my thought process and emotion as well as my craft. As a result, I have an informal set of rules that let me have free rein in the creation of the work so that the painting is allowed to form in an organic way. Not forced, which often takes away the vitality of many pieces, in my opinion. 

But this particular request is unlike many others that I receive. They want this piece to relate the story of the classic myth of Baucis and Philemon, which is the tale of a poor but happy couple who are unknowingly visited by Zeus and Hermes disguised as dusty travelers. Beggars, really. The two gods had went door to door among their neighbors seeking hospitality and were rebuffed in every attempt, often with harsh words. Zeus became angry as door after door was slammed in his face. Finally, they came to the door of the shack of Baucis and Philemon, the poorest looking home they had yet approached. 

Upon knocking, they were greeted warmly by an elderly couple who welcomed them in to their simple but cleanhome and treated them with what little they had in the way of food and drink. They were gracious and hospitable, seeking to give comfort to the strangers. As the night wore on, the couple, who had been serving their simple wine to the travelers from a pitcher, noticed that the pitcher stayed full even after many pours. They began to suspect that these were not mere beggars but were, in fact, gods. 

They apologized to the gods for not having much to put before them then offered to catch their prized goose, which was really a pet, and cook it for them. The old couple chased the goose around the shack until finally the frightened creature found sanctuary on the laps of the gods. Stroking the now safe goose, Zeus then informed them of their identities and, after complimenting on their hospitality and of the mean-spiritedness of their neighbors, told them to follow them. They climbed upon a rise and Zeus told them to look back. Where once their town had stood was nothing but water, from a deluge that had washed away everything, including all who had insulted Zeus. From where their poor home had been, a majestic golden-roofed temple with sparkling marble pillars rose from the receding waters. 

Zeus told the couple that this was their new home and asked what wish he could grant them. They asked that they be made priests, guardians of this temple and that they should always remain together until the ends of their lives. Seeing their obvious love for each other, Zeus readily agreed. The couple lived for many more years together, reaching a prodigious age. One day they stood together and all the past moments from their life and love together flooded over them. Baucis saw leaves and limbs sprouting from Philemon and realized that the same thing was happening to her. On the plain outside the temple, they transformed into two trees, an oak and a linden, that grew from the same trunk, their limbs intertwined, eternally together. 

That’s a simple re-telling of the tale but I think you can see why this couple might want a symbol of this story to mark their time together…

[The painting shown here, The Eternal Gift, is part of my current show and is available at the West End Gallery.  It is a 10″ by 18″ image on paper.]

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I have painted several pieces over the past few years based on the mythic tale of Baucis and Philemon, taken from the Metamorphoses from the Roman poet Ovid.  I have described the story here several times of the visit  to a village by Zeus and Mercury, disguised as beggars.  They are roughly tuned away from every door in the village until they come to the home of the poor elderly couple, Baucis and Philemon, where they are welcomed with warmth and gracious hospitality despite the  poverty of their household.  Sparing the couple as he destroys the village in his wrath, Zeus then grants them any wish they might desire.

They choose to be allowed to stay together for eternity.  When they pass away simultaneously years later, they are resurrected as two separate trees that grow from the same trunk, united forever.  It’s a lovely fable and one of my favorites.  I have always chose to depict this story simply, with two trees, one red and one green, intertwined together.

I call  this painted version The Gift of Zeus.  It is a n 18″ by 18″ canvas that is headed to the West End Gallery for my annual solo show there which opens next Friday, July 20.  There’s a crispness in this piece that I find very appealing as well as interesting contrasts and subtleties in the sky, which may not show up well in the photo here, that give this piece a dramatic edge that catches my eye each time I pass by it in the studio.

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To the End of Time

This is a new painting, 12″ by 18″ on paper, that I’m calling To the End of Time.  It’s another take on the Baucis and Philemon theme that I have used and talked about here before, from the Greek myth from the poor couple who were favored by the Gods for their generosity of spirit and were rewarded by being allowed to be united for eternity in the form of two trees that sprouted from the same trunk. 

This piece has a wonderful simplicity of form and composition, letting the depth in the colors and the the movement created in the texture of the sky and in the foliage of the trees carry the narrative and emotional load.  I think this painting is very much enhanced by its spareness of detail, making the central figures seem as they exist in some otherworldly plane, free from the drone of the everyday.

The sky here takes on a character of its own with the swirling bands of gesso that dance across it. There is also a nice intensity in the color and contrast of it.  This is one of those pieces that I like to use as an example of how much can be said with little, how each bit of the painting, every square inch, has visual interest.  This was a premise I started painting with many years ago and when my work is at its best, this is very evident. 

Well, at least to me.

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Last year on this blog, I talked about a piece that I was commissioned to paint translating the Greek myth of Baucis and Philemon, the couple that were spared by the Zeus because of the deep love they shared and the humility and generosity they displayed.  They lived on in eternity as a pair of trees growing from the same trunk.  I did not translate the piece literally but used my visual vocabulary to convey the qualities that I think make up the couple.  All in all, I think it was a very successful piece.

I was recently asked to paint another version based on this same myth after the person requesting it had seen my first take on it.  The result is shown here.  It has a more celebratory feel than the first version and has a real sense of optimism in its color and composition.  I think it has a very different overall feel than the first but really hits the mark. 

It’s not always easy when I am asked to produce a painting based on another painting of mine.  There are so many little variables that make a painting successful, sometimes things that I have no control over or an action of mine of which I might not even be aware. Sometimes even the time of the year makes a difference.  For instance, right now , it is cooler in the studio than earlier in the year.  As a result, the surfaces dry at different rates and sometimes there is a subtle difference in the way certain colors dry and adhere.  So a color painted in July may not turn out absolutely the same in October.  Fortunately, for this request the colors and format were different so it was not a matter of replicating the first version. 

I hope this painting serves its new owners well and well represents their own time together.  It’s been my pleasure to have folks like this use my work as a symbol for a part of their lives.

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