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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Darwin’

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“The whole value of solitude depends upon oneself; it may be a sanctuary or a prison, a haven of repose or a place of punishment, a heaven or a hell, as we ourselves make it.” 

― John Lubbock, Peace and Happiness

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I had never heard of John Lubbock before coming across the short quote above. He was one of those interesting 19th century British characters, a titled member (1st Baron Avebury) of a wealthy banking family who made great contributions to the advancement of the sciences and math as well as to many liberal causes.

For example, it was John Lubbock who coined the terms Paleolithic and Neolithic in describing the Old and New Stone Ages, as well as helping to make archaeology a recognized scientific discipline. As a youth he was a neighbor to Charles Darwin and was heavily influenced by the older scientist, who he befriended. He also worked with Darwin as a young man and championed his evolutionary theories in his later adulthood. He was obviously a man who used his position and access to higher knowledge to add to both his own intellect and that of our our collective body.

That being said, his words this morning gave me pause.

I have generally viewed solitude as a sanctuary, even in the troubled times of my life. It was a place to calm myself, to gather my thoughts and clearly examine what was before me.

I crave solitude so the idea that for some this same solitude could feel like a hell or a prison seemed foreign to me. What differentiates one’s perception of such a basic thing as the solitude in being alone? How could my place of sanctuary be someone else’s chamber of horrors?

If you’re expecting me to answer, you’re going to be disappointed because I can’t really say.  I would say it might have to do with insecurity but I have as much, if not more, uncertainty and insecurity than most people. We all have unique psychological makeups and every situation, including that of solitude, is seen from a unique perspective.

This is also the basis for all art. What else could explain how one person can look at a painting and see an idyllic scene while another can feel uneasy or even offended by the same scene?

Now, the painting at the top, titled A Place of Sanctuary, is a piece that very much reflects this sense of finding haven in solitude. For me, it is calming and centering, a place and time that appeals to my need for sanctuary.

Someone else might see it otherwise. They might see something remote, alien and unsettling in it.

I may not understand it but that’s okay, too. So long as they feel something…

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This post originally ran in 2018. The painting, A Place of Sanctuary, is currently on view at the West End Gallery as part of my solo exhibit, Moments and Color, which runs until August 30.

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GC Myers 2013 AscendantThis is a 24″ by 24″ canvas  that I finished yesterday.  I am still going back and forth on the  title between Ascendant and Ascent of Man.  Obviously, you could tell without seeing it that it has something to do with a hill, mountain or mound, which comes as no surprise for those of you who know my work.  Using a form of the word ascend denotes a climb of some sort,  either in actuality or metaphorically.  Both initially come  to  mind for me when I look at this piece.

Maybe it’s the way the hill rises from amid the verdant forest and river that brings the title Ascent of Man to mind.  While not necessarily in direct reference to  Charles Darwin‘s work, I definitely see a symbol  of an evolutionary nature in the way the path moves upward through a series of switchbacks, several houses perched on its edge as it rises denoting man  as he evolves  from the earth and water.  The golden sky breaking over the edge of the treeline adds a richness, a sense of fertility, that adds flavor to this whole stew.

The  Red Tree at the peak of the hill symbolizes the present, the now that is the culmination of all that has come before.  Evolution, ancestry, history– whatever you choose to call it– has brought each of us to our own personal peaks.  We are all the sum of all that has led each of us to the present moment.

I really enjoyed painting this piece.  That’s not to say that I don’t find enjoyment of some sort in every painting.  Just the sheer thrill of seeing something form before my eyes and under my hand is always enjoyable.  No, it’s a different type of enjoyment that I’m talking about here.  It felt complete even before it was completely laid out in the initial stage of composition as I worked on the underpainting.  It felt right and balanced from the start which allowed an excitement to grow, an anticipation of how the painting would form and change with each subsequent layer of paint.

It’s that excitement that I have talked about before when I describe what motivates me in the studio.   I have often said when asked about this that the most important thing for me is finding that thing that excites me in the work, that thing that makes me feel the piece is beyond me.  That is usually the sign for me that the work is going to excite others and that’s what I felt here.

But, as always, we will have to see about that…

 

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Mark Twain's "Eve's Diary" Title Page - by Lester Ralph

There is a slate of activities scheduled tonight at the historic Park Church in my hometown of Elmira to commemorate this city’s part in an episode that Mark Twain chronicled in a very short vignette called A Monument to Adam.  It seems that Twain had made an offhand comment at one point in the late 1870’s to the then minister of Park Church, Thomas K. Beecher, who was the  brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher and a favorite drinking buddy of the famed writer.  It was in the era when the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin were taking hold of the wider population and Twain, in speaking of Darwin with Beecher, joked that the biblical Adam had altogether been overlooked by the naturalist and that  he would surely soon be forgotten.  He then suggested, with tongue even more firmly planted in cheek, that Elmira should erect a monument to Adam that would keep his name alive as well as serve as a great boon to local tourism.

Much to his surprise, the idea took off locally and soon he was in meetings with bankers who pledged thousands of dollars to erect the monument and began to solicit designs from all over, some from Paris, as Twain notes.  Elmira was on its way to becoming a tourist mecca.  Or so the locals thought.

The Park Church, Elmira NY

Twain felt it was always a ridiculous idea and, in an effort to curtail its momentum, wrote a request to be read before the congress asking the federal government to erect the monument, knowing full well that once the idea was presented it would be ridiculed and would soon be forgotten.  But the representative wouldn’t read it because he felt that it was so seriously written and sentimental that they might just consider it in earnest. 

Of course, the idea ran out of steam and was soon set aside only to revived later as a short article by Twain.  Elmira never became a tourist destination, outside of the folks who come to see Twain’s gravesite.   But tonight the idea lives on again in that same church where Twain would periodically listen to the preaching of Beecher.

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