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Posts Tagged ‘Biographical’

I’ve mentioned here before that my father is in a local nursing facility, suffering from Alzheimer’s related dementia. Visits with him have become shorter and shallower, barely any conversation outside of a short script of repeating questions he asks that remain embedded in his fading mind. Most of the time, he sleeps now. It’s a strange thing seeing him now. He seems a faint echo of his prior self. Many of the facets of he personality I knew as a kid are not recognizable in him now.

I sometimes sit there for a bit and look at him, trying to remember him in different times, with his good points and his bad. I often think of him with his friends at a few local bars, the environment where he seemed to me to be most comfortable and at home. There was a lot of easy laughing and a warmth extended to his comrades, many of which were guys he’d known for most of life, that I didn’t see anywhere else, even at home. It was a true facet of who he was, one that only showed itself in the safety found in the dark, smoky closeness of those old bars. 

At those moments, looking at him in this way, I always go back to a favorite song, one that I used in the post below from several years ago that deals with this same subject. Here it is:

GC Myers-Tree Waltz smIt’s the last Sunday of June and I sit in my studio early this morning surrounded by new work in varied states of completion that is headed to the West End Gallery for my show there at the end of July. There are paintings on easels and on chairs, some propped against the walls, on ledges above the fireplace as well as leaning against the hearth– everywhere I turn they’re facing me.

I take a moment and just sit back and take them all in, just letting them meld together as a collective group. For a moment, there’s a disconcerting feeling like looking at mirror that is shattered but still in place, a hundred different angles of myself staring back at me. But there is a quick adjustment, like my eyes coming into focus, and they’re no longer images of myself. Oh, I’m in there and I am part of what they are but they are more like a group of friends surrounding me, each with their own life but still maintaining a close relationship with me. I know them well, know their secrets, know what they mean to me. And they know me, hold my secrets and share a past with me.

In that moment, there’s a feeling like I am in a room full of friends and it is warmly reassuring. I’m not sure I can do justice with my description here. It makes me think of a favorite song of mine, Feeling Good Again, from Robert Earl Keen. Whenever I hear this song I am reminded of the time in my youth spent with my father, especially after my brother and sister were gone and I alone remained at home.

On many Saturdays we ended up at the horse track and before heading out would stop at a beer joint in town. It would only be about 9 or 10 in the morning but the place would be busy, with some guys drinking their morning coffee and some their first of many beers for the day. When we walked in, there would be shouted greetings and smiles from around the bar. Everyone knew each other and there was a terrific sense of friendship and camaraderie in their banter. Looking back, I can  see how that place was a safe haven for a lot of tough, working class lives and how those friendships, though maybe not deep, were reassuring, a connection they often couldn’t find in other parts of their lives.

They might struggle through the week but for s few short hours, they had a kinship that made it tolerable. Those times had them feeling good again.

Feeling Good Again is the name of this song from Robert Earl Keen. When I hear this song, I am transformed again to one of those Saturday mornings, a thirteen year old kid drinking a coke while my old man joked around with his buddies and looked over the Racing Form with his cup of coffee.  Have a great day.

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Another Labor Day has come. Most folks have forgotten that this holiday was first celebrated back in 1894, signed in as a federal holiday as an effort to bring an air of reconciliation to the nation which had just endured the widespread and violent Pullman Strike. It is meant to honor the Labor Movement and the workers it represents.

For me, the day reminds me of the first time I worked outside of our home for someone else as a child, a memory that was recently reawakened at a wedding of an old friend near the fields where I first used my hands and back for labor. There was an old potato farmer on the road where I grew up and a friend of mine would periodically go down there and work, most of the time picking or bagging potatoes. One day he asked if I wanted to come along as the farmer was going to lay irrigation pipe that day and could use some extra help. Being eleven years old and wanting to make some extra cash and having no idea what I was getting myself into, I agreed.

It was hot and dusty work. The long pipes weren’t heavy but were awkward and each time they began to dip towards the ground as you carried them brought a gruff yell from the crusty old farmer, who was not one to wear out his smile from use. He certainly didn’t put much wear and tear on his that day. To make up for it, he did a lot of yelling and cursing at us.

We had just a short break to eat the sandwich each of us had brought with us and after about eight hours in the fields, I was exhausted and covered with alternating layers of sweat and gray, grimy dust. It was the first real day of work I had experienced. It had been a tough for an untested eleven year old but now I would be rewarded.

As my friend and I prepared to mount our bicycles and head tiredly home, the farmer stood before us in his dusty bib overalls, unsmiling, of course.

“Suppose you want to get paid?”

It came out of his mouth not so much like a question but more like a complaint. We silently nodded, eager in our anticipation of our sweet reward. He stuck his thick, strong farmer hand into a pocket and pulled out a handful of change. He counted out three dollars in quarters to each of us and said, “Okay?”

Again, not really a question. More of a dismissal, more like okay, we’re done here, now go.

We were just kids but we knew we had been taken advantage of that day. But we were eleven years old and afraid to death to talk back to the surly old man, to say that this was unfair. We never worked another day for him and I found out later that this was his modus operandi, working the hell out of kids then underpaying them. If they didn’t come back, so what? There were always kids looking  to make some money.

It was a small incident but it shaped how I viewed labor and the way many people are exploited. It was a clear object lesson, in microcosm, on the value of the labor movement in this country as a unifying force for those of us most susceptible to being exploited.

The labor movement is underappreciated now. Our memories are short and we lose sight of the abuse and exploitation of workers that have taken place over the ages. We take for granted many of the rights, rules and protections in the workplace, thinking they have always been in place. But they are there only because people in the labor movement stood up against this exploitation and abuse. These folks willing to stand against injustice deserve our gratitude on this day. We could use a hell of a lot more of them now.

So, as you spend your holiday in a hopefully happy and relaxing manner, remember those who made this day possible. Happy Labor Day.

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This post originally ran on this blog back on Labor Day in 2010.

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So runs my dream: but what am I? 
         An infant crying in the night: 
         An infant crying for the light: 
And with no language but a cry.
                                                                                                          .
Alfred Tennyson, Canto 54, In Memoriam A.H.H.
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I came across an online article a few weeks back that captured my interest. Written by British designer Benjamin Earl Evans, it is titled 11 Brutal Truths About Creativity That No One Wants to Talk About. It’s a pretty short read.
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Many of the points Evans makes seem pretty evident to me– your ideas are not original, everybody is creative, creativity is hard, success depends on the assistance of others and so on. Art, like any business or real endeavor, is filled with difficulties and harsh realities and if someone has spent anytime trying to be a working artist, they recognize many of these as absolute truths.
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Perhaps the greatest difficulty for the visual artist is that you are faced with the prospect of competing with other artists, many with greater skills and training than yourself, for dwindling opportunities to show your work in the traditional gallery spaces that best gets your work in front of prospective collectors. Add to this that the artist then has to have their work somehow create an emotional bridge to the viewer, something that connects with them on the most visceral level.
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I find myself often wondering what might be the differentiating factor in why the work of some artists succeed at these difficult tasks while the work of other greatly skilled artists does not? It is surely something beyond technical prowess and a solid resume. Something almost indefinable.
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Evans provides one possible answer in this article, one that stopped me in my tracks with its simple obviousness– allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
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It made me think the many times I have seen artists with incredible technical and observational skills create work that just doesn’t seem to reveal itself emotionally. Perhaps their ability has overshadowed their need for expression? I don’t know that answer.
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But reading that, I immediately recognized the place of vulnerability and my willingness to share it in my work. I realize that my fears and shortcomings come through in my work.  My weaknesses, my uncertainties and my tears are readily on display as are my affections, hopes and aspirations. Even my lack of certain skills is a vulnerability that I am willing to expose and share, mainly because I cannot hide behind them.
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Maybe that kind of vulnerability is one of those differentiating factors. I don’t know for sure though I tend to lean that way in my belief. How does an artist gain vulnerability? Again, I don’t know. Not even sure they can outside of trying to work on those things that allow them to really feel deep emotion.
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No easy answers, unfortunately. But for me, I will continue with my transparency, my own vulnerability. It’s all I know.

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pablopicassoskeletonYour willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.

August Wilson

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As the post below from back in August of 2010 points out, most years I struggle with the month of August and this particular one is no different.  The doldrums set in and I am filled with an anxiety and a stifling restlessness that combine to create a sense of desperation within me.  If I hadn’t experienced this before, this feeling would seem unbearable.

But it’s not something new so I realize that it’s just a matter of hanging on and letting it pass, all the while trying to pull something from it that will show itself in my work.  I have found that such keen desperation is often the source of great work, much as playwright August Wilson a fitting first name!— points out so eloquently in the quote above.  So, while I find myself fighting through the cruel days and demons of August, I do so as I listen for the song of angels to begin.

And from experience, I know they will begin soon enough.  Sing, angels, sing!

From August 18, 2010:

This print from Picasso [ Above] very much sums up my feelings for the month of August. 

I have never been a fan of August.  Memories of the so-called dog days of summer spent as a child.  Hot from a relentless sun.  Bored.  Burnt grass crunching underfoot.  The coming school year hanging overhead like the sword of Damocles.

August has always had a faint aura of death around it for me.  I remember the death of my grandfather in ’68.  My beloved dog Maggie years later.  Several friends over the years, from a variety of causes. Elvis.   The bright glare of the August sun seeming to taunt the grief of the moment.

August.

We were watching something on television the other night, perhaps Mad Men– I can’t really remember.  Anyway, the character in the scene that was on said , “I hate August.” 

It made my ears prick up and I couldn’t help but mutter, “I’m with you there, brother.”

August.

Well, I’ve got a lot to do this August  morning.  It takes a lot of work to keep busy to ward off the cruelty of  August…

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“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

-Elie Wiesel

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GC Myers Memory of  Night sm

I’ve been sitting here for quite some time now, staring at the quote above from Elie Wiesel.  I had planned on writing about how my work evolved as a response to the indifference of others but now, looking at those words and putting them into the context of  Wiesel’s experience, I feel a bit foolish.  Wiesel, who had survived the Holocaust, was eyewitness to indifference on a grand scale, from those who were complicit or those who did not raise their voices in protest even though they knew what was happening to the personal indifference shown by his Nazi guards, as they turned a blind eye to the suffering and inhumanity directly before them on a daily basis, treating them as though they were nothing at all.

The indifference of which he speaks is that which looks past you without  any regard for your humanity. Or your existence, for that matter.  It is this failure to engage, this failure to allow our empathy to take hold and guide us,  that grants permission for the great suffering that takes place throughout our world.

So you can see where writing about showing a picture as a symbolic battle against indifference might seem a bit trivial.  It certainly does to me.  But I do see in it a microcosm of the wider implications.  We all want our humanity, our existence, recognized and for me this was a small way of  raising my voice to be heard.

When I first started showing my work I was coming off of a period where I was at my lowest point for quite some time.  I felt absolutely voiceless and barely visible in the world, dispossessed in many ways.  In art I found a way to finally express an inner voice, my real humanity,  that others could see and react to.  So when my first opportunity to display my work came, at the West End Gallery in 1995, I went to the show with great trepidation.  For some, it was just a show of  some nice paintings by some nice folks.  For me, it was a test of my existence.

It was interesting as I stood off to the side, watching as people walked about the space.  It was elating when someone stopped and looked at my small pieces.  But that  feeling of momentary glee was overwhelmed by the indifference shown by those who walked by with hardly a glance.  That crushed me.  I would have rather they had stopped and spit at the wall than merely walk by dismissively.  That, at least, would have made me feel heard.

Don’t get me wrong here– some people who are not moved by a painting walking by it without a glance are not Nazis.  I held no ill will toward them, even at that moment.  I knew that I was the one who had placed so much importance on this moment, not them.  They had no idea that they were playing part to an existential  crisis.  Now, I am even a bit grateful for their indifference that night because it made me vow that I would paint bolder, that I would make my voice be heard.  Without that indifference I might have settled and not continued forward on my path.

But in this case, I knew that it was up to me to overcome their indifference.

Again, please excuse my use of Mr. Wiesel’s quote here.  We all want to be heard, to be recognized on the basic levels for our own existence, our own individual selves. But too often, we all show indifference that takes that away from others, including those that we love.  We all need to listen and hear, to look and see, to express our empathy with those we encounter.  Maybe in these small ways the greater effects of indifference of which Elie Wiesel spoke can be somehow avoided.

It’s a hope.

The painting at the top is a new piece that I call Memory of Night, inspired by Wiesel’s book, Night.

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GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork6I have been spending a lot of time here in the studio in the last few weeks painting in a more traditional manner, what I call an additive style meaning that layers of paint are continually added , normally building from dark to light.  I’ve painted this way for many years but much of my work is painted in a much different manner where a lot of very wet paint is applied to a flat surface.  I then take off much of this paint, revealing the lightness of he underlying surface.  That’s a very simplified version of the process, one that has evolved and refined over the years,  that I, of course, refer to as being reductive.

When you’re self-taught, you can call things whatever you please.  I’m thinking of calling my brushes hairsticks from now on.

This reductive process is what continually prodded me ahead early on when I was just learning to express myself visually.  I went back recently and came across a very early group of these pieces, among the very first where I employed this process.  I am still attracted to these pieces, partly because of the nostalgia of seeing those things once again  that opened other doors for me.  But there was also a unity and continuity in the work that I found very appealing.  Each piece, while not very refined or tremendously strong alone, strengthened the group  as a whole.  I would have been hesitant to show most of these alone but together they feel so much more complete and unified.

This has made me look at these pieces in a different light, one where I found new respect for them. I think they are really symbolic of some of  what I consider strengths in my work, this sense of continuum and relativity from piece to piece.  It also brings me back to that early path and makes me consider if I should backtrack and walk that path again, now armed with twenty years of experience.  Something to consider.

GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 1 GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 3 GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 5 GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 2 GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 4

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Steampunk Breathe Pendulum Clock- Erin Keck

Steampunk Breathe Pendulum Clock- Erin Keck

My solo show this year at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, Virginia, for which I am in the midst of preparations,  is scheduled  for Friday, June 6th.  This show, which I am calling  Traveller,  will be my fifteenth solo show at the Principle, something which sets my mind reeling with all sorts of thoughts.  I  had no idea when that first show, Redtree,  took place back in 2000 that it would continue for so many years.  To be truthful, I had no expectations of any sort.

I just didn’t know then.  Just as I don’t know now.

Thinking of this show makes me wonder at the fact that I am now in my twentieth year as a professional artist.  While I had no real endpoint to which I was aspiring in the beginning, I was nonetheless impatient to get there. The intervening years have taught me a bit about respecting time and patience, about plodding ahead incrementally and setting aside certain anxieties.  Or at least, coming to terms with them so that they don’t paralyze me.

Time is also a great revelator of  who one really is.  You can’t fake who you are through twenty years.  No, you can’t endure twenty years of creating without revealing your own personal truths.

I think my body work over this time is ample display of that.  It is flawed and imperfect. It is rough around the edges at times yet delicate, almost fragile, at other times.   It is sometimes loud when it should be quiet and quiet when it should be loud.  It is confident and bold yet filled with uncertainties and apprehensions.  It tries to be plain-spoken and easily accessible yet not simple or frivolous.

Unapologetically, it is what it is.

I could easily describe myself with all of these.  I am my work and my work is me and together we travel in time.

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The cool timepiece at the top right is from artist Erin Keck of Mechanicsburg, PA.  She does some creative and wonderful steampunk pieces.  Check out her online store  by clicking here.

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