Posts Tagged ‘Cooperstown’

I am preparing for my first experience as a teacher when I lead a two-day workshop next month.  I’ve been thinking what I want to say to the people who come to it.  And what I don’t want to tell them.  Mainly, I want to stay away from telling them that they should or must do something in any one way.  I will show them my process and my techniques but will stay away from all subjective judgments.   While I might like to see them render something in one way, their work should be their own creations with its own visual vocabulary and style, all based on their own perceptions.

This reminded me of a post from several years ago that addressed just such an issue.  It is one of my favorite stories about the late Ralph Fasanella, the one-time union organizer turned urban folk painter.  His enthusiasm for maintaining his personal vision is something I hope to impart to the folks who might be attending the workshop.  From back in 2011:

Ralph Fasanella- Stickball

Ralph Fasanella- Stickball

I came into the studio this morning and immediately sat down to read my emails.  Among them was the most recent post from  AmericanFolk Art@ Cooperstown titled Ralph’s Take On Rembrandt.  It concerned the late and great American folk artist Ralph Fasanella and his reaction to criticism and unsolicited advice.  I finished reading and burst out laughing.  Boy, did it hit close to home!

Over the years, I have been approached by several people who think they are doing me a great service by telling me that I should change the way I paint in some way or that I should try to paint more like some other artist.  Early on, when I was first exhibiting my work, I had another more established artist tell me that I should change the way I paint my figures, that they should look the way other artists paint them.  I responded to this artist and the others who offered me their advice with a smile and an “I’ll look into that.”  But  that one time,  I also mistakenly heeded the older painter’s words, being inexperienced and seeking a way as I was, and stopped painting figures for a while before realizing that this was not good advice at all.

Here’s the post about Fasanella and his response to such advice.

Ralph Fasanella had trouble painting hands. A lot of trained artists do too, so it is not surprising that a union organizer who turned to drawing suddenly at the age of 40 would struggle with hands early in his career. But he did have something that proved better than years of formal training: he believed that he was an artist and that what he was doing – painting the lives of working people – was a calling that deserved his complete attention and all-consuming passion.

And that made him react when anyone suggested that his paintings weren’t up to snuff. He said that he was painting “felt space,” not real space. His people and the urban settings he placed them in were not realistic in the purest sense of the word, but they sang with spirit and emotion. As Ralph said, “I may paint flat, but I don’t think flat.”

Rembrandt- The Jewish Bride (Detail)

Rembrandt- The Jewish Bride (Detail)

His most memorable quote, and the one that says the most about him, occurred very early in his artistic career, when someone told him that his hands looked like sticks. He ought to study Rembrandt’s hands, they said, in order to get it right.  His response is priceless: “Fuck you and Rembrandt! My name is Ralph!”

I may not really adopt Ralph’s approach but you can bet his words will be echoing in my head the next time someone says “You should paint like…”

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Baseball The First 100 Years Album CoverBaseball season has snuck upon us again and it remains one of my favorite times of the year.  I had my first taste yesterday, watching the Mets squander a lead then lose in extra innings to the Washington Nationals as I worked in the studio.  It felt pretty good. I have written many times over the years here about my affection for the game and how its history and its folklore is woven into the mesh of our country.

One of my favorite things to listen to when I was a kid was an album called Baseball: The First 100 Years .  It was from 1969, the year that marked professional baseball’s first century, and I can’t remember if I got it in Cooperstown or at Shea Stadium.  But I would play it over and over, listening to the calls of the great plays and great games of the past.  Willie Mays’ over the shoulder catch.  Bobby Thompson’s epic 1951 home run that ended with perhaps the most famous sound clip in baseball history– The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! 

Mighty Casey Has Struck OutIt had Abbott & Costello with their classic bit Who’s On First?, which still makes me laugh even though I’ve heard it a thousand times.  There were songs about Joltin’ Joe and Say Hey Willie and  the classic Take Me out to the Ballpark. And, of course, there was a recitation of Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s poem Casey At The Bat.

I’ve heard many versions of Casey At The Bat over the years.  Some are goofy, some are dead serious and some are emotionally overwrought, especially some of the earliest ones that featured stage actors who exaggerated every feeling and syllable in the poem.  They are all good fun but I prefer a more straight approach.  Today I am featuring a version with the wondrous voice of James Earl Jones followed by a version from another wonderful voice, Garrison Keillor, giving the other side of the story, speaking in a strong Bostonian accent.  Casey was obviously a Yankee in this version.  It’s pretty funny and sends me into the season with a smile.  Hope it does the same for you.



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I was in Cooperstown yesterday, picking up my paintings after my show at the Fenimore Art Museum there had finally ended.  After packing up and heading home, Fenimore  Art Museum Exhibit- GC Myers2012 2I couldn’t shake a song from my head, it’s refrain running over and over again.  It was Is That All There is? by Peggy Lee.  It had been a hit for her in 1969 and was played regularly on the AM radio stations of the time.  If you were listening to an AM station back then , there was no telling what you might here next.  After Peggy Lee you might hear the Beatles or the Stones and then maybe something from Otis Redding followed by Roger Miller or the  Doors or Johnny Cash.  It was all over the place, stylistically, but that was the norm then before music on the radio became relegated to its stylistic niche.

But in 1969, there was Peggy Lee, the older Pop/Jazz chanteuse from a prior generation singing the existential lyrics of  Is That All There Is?  on my radio.  She spoke much of the song, recounting episodes in her  life and the disillusionment she felt after each occurred before singing the lines  …if that’s all there is , my friends/ Then let’s keep dancing/Let’s break out the booze and have a ball/ If that’s all/There is…

It turns out the song, written by the great songwriting team of Lieber and Stoller, was based on an 1896 short story, Disillusionment,  from German writer Thomas Mann and the song’s episodes were directly from the story.  I didn’t know that and it really didn’t matter because , though I was only ten years old at the time,  there was something in that song that stuck with me, something that I internally understood. We are always let down somehow by those things we seek and finally attain, even when they meet all of our expectations.  We never feel as changed as we had thought we might and we emerge pretty much the same person.

That’s pretty much the feeling I had yesterday as I headed home.  The show there had been a great, great experience.  It had exceeded my expectations and was by all accounts very successful.  But still… there was the inevitable moment of letdown accompanied by doubts and fears and questions.  What if this is as good as it gets?  Is this a peak and I have nowhere to go but down?  Where do I go from here?

I’ve tried to explain this feeling here before. It’s something that baffled me early on.   But after doing about 35 or so solo shows over the past decade and a half, I’ve come to expect this feeling and am somewhat prepared.  I always tell other artists when they get their first show to savor the feeling, take it all in, but to not be too discouraged by that letdown moment in the aftermath.  And they all do feel that moment, even after a triumphant show.  I’ve had so many tell me this that there must be some validity in it.

I’ve gotten to the point where I anticipate it and try to prepare for it.  There’s show preparation and post-show preparation.  The show prep is actually the easy part in that  it is all tangible.  There is work to complete. deadlines to meet.  The post-show is intangible, without goals or deadlines,  and therefore more difficult to take on.  I use it now  as a catalyst, a cattle prod of fear to spur me forward in my work.  Actually, I would be worried right now if I were without fears,  satisfied and content with my achievement.  I think that this feeling of contentment leads to complacency which is the end of growth and creativity for an artist.  And to not continue to grow would be even worse than the few pangs of disillusionment I experience in the aftermath of a show.

So today I am discontented and anxious in the studio.  Just as I want and need to be.

I think I’ll listen to a little Peggy Lee just to enhance that feeling. Maybe I’ll break out the booze and have a ball…

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Cheri and I made our way to Cooperstown this past Saturday to see my exhibit at the Fenimore Art Museum.  Cheri  had not yet seen it and also wanted to see the American Impressionists show before it comes down on the 16th of September as well as the paintings of folk portraitist William Matthew Prior.  Both of those shows were wonderful, particularly the Prior exhibit which gave a broader view of his work and the world in which he painted.

But  we there to mainly take in my show there, of course.  It’s always a strange feeling going into a space filled with your work.   I remember the first time I had a solo show at the Principle Gallery back in 2000.  When we came into the gallery, the work that filled the space seemed to surround and overwhelm us.  Both Cheri and I felt a bit nauseous at first, as though it were just too much to absorb.  I still periodically get that little bit of  a tremble in the gut when confronted with a roomful of my work and I did feel it just a bit on Saturday.

But Cheri’s response to the work took away any tension I was feeling.  Her eyes opened very wide and her face glowed as she came to the top of the grand staircase and spotted the painting that was framed perfectly in the doorway to my exhibit.  We went into the space and she turned, taking in all the walls with a glance, a broad smile on her face.

“Amazing.  It’s perfect.”

That was all I needed to hear.  I was happy as I could possibly at that moment.  I have often kidded that she is often my harshest critic but that is simply the result of a directness and honesty that comes from 35 years of marriage.  I trust her opinion and her glowing approval set aside any apprehension that might have been lingering.  I began to take in the work without worry.

For me, it was most satisfying seeing the very large painting, The Internal Landscape, shown at the top center here.  I had never seen it hang on a wall, especially  with the beautiful lighting and atmosphere that this space offered.  It was all that I hoped it would be on the wall and my eyes kept coming back to it.  The rhythm of the piece really rang out in that space and seemed to connect with all of the other pieces that surrounded it.  The works there seemed to be alive on the walls and there is a really nice warmth and continuum running through this group of work that seems to envelop you when you enter the gallery.  That’s a nice feeling and I think it’s a great representation of  my work to this point.

It was also interesting to go back into the gallery after taking in the work of the Impressionist masters that took up the adjoining larger gallery space.  I initially was a bit afraid that my work would not fit well, would be overwhelmed by this work.   I mean, there is gorgeous work there from Mary Cassatt, Hassam , Glackens and Willard Metcalf— all painters that I have long admired.  It is a bit intimidating.  But coming back into my gallery, Cheri commented how well my work held up next to their’s and I realized that I didn’t feel as out of place with my work there as I thought I might.  In fact, I no longer felt intimidated in the least.

I hope that doesn’t sound egotistical.  It’s certainly not meant to be and I would never put myself up to the level of the  time-tested masters.  But leaving the museum that day, I felt as though I had fully shown that my work had its own truly  individual voice, one that had the same validity and integrity as the work of any painter.  That was a good feeling on a very good day.

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My exhibition, Internal Landscapes: The Paintings of GC Myers, has officially opened at the Fenimore Art Museum in lovely Cooperstown, NY.  The exhibit hangs until the end of the year, December 31.  It’s a select group of mostly larger paintings from the last few years along with a few very early small pieces that show the beginning stages of the evolution of my work.

One of the highlights for me is the first public showing of the piece shown above, The Internal Landscape, a painting familiar to regular readers of this blog.  It is a very large painting, measuring 54″ high by 84″ wide.  This large scale gives it  a real presence in any space.

If you can make it to the Fenimore in the next month, the exhibit hanging in the adjacent gallery is American Impressionism: Paintings of Light and Life, which is a grand collection of paintings from the likes of Mary Cassatt, Childe Hassam and William Merritt Chase.  And if you’re looking for real star power, there’s even a piece from one of the most influential Impressionists, Claude Monet.  Plus there are several other great exhibits not to mention the incredible Thaw Collection of American Indian Art, which is worth the trip on its own.  I’m pretty excited to be in such grand company.

On November 7, I will be giving a talk on show after a luncheon, from 12:30 until 2:30,  as part of the museum’s Food For Thought lecture series.

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2012 is going to be a very exciting year for me– and not only for the Mayan Apocalypse.  I have three solo shows at the galleries that represent my work all set around my upcoming  exhibit,  Internal Landscapes: The Paintings of GC Myers, at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown which runs from August 17 through December 31 of this year.  There will also be four gallery talks, including one at the Fenimore in November. So, as I say, it looks to be a busy and exciting year.

Also new this year is an energetic Midwest gallery that will begin representing my work beginning later this month.  Watts Fine Art opened in 2010 in the historic district of Zionsville , a suburb of Indianapolis with tree-lined brick streets.  It is ran by Shannon and John Watts, a young couple who retired a few years back from extremely sucessful corporate careers and decided to make their passion for art their newest life adventure in the form of a gallery dedicated to bringing the very best contemporary art to the Midwest. 

Shannon and John have a palpable excitement for the work they represent which is something that, as an artist, you hope for in the gallery staffs that represent your work.  Their enthusiasm for their gallery and the possibility of showing my work there was key in my decision to join with them.  They also have a wide and long-range vision for their gallery,  wanting to introduce collectors throughout the entire Midwest with their collection of artists from around the country.  I am really pleased and enthused about joining their gallery and having Shannon and John represent my paintings.

So, with all of this on my plate, I guess I should get back to work!

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I have mentioned here that my work will be the subject of an exhibition at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown , NY next year, running from August 17 through December 31, 2012.  I had not been at the museum for many, many years so last week Cheri and I decided to pay a visit to both see the space where the exhibit will be hung and to see the museum as a whole.

I haven’t been to Cooperrstown in quite a while but from the moment I enter this little gem of a village I remember how much I like the place.  I’ve used the word idyllic several times recently here but must use it again to describe the atmosphere of this village built around the southern end of Lake Otsego, the lake famously referred to as Glimmerglass by James Fenimore Cooper, a name that now graces the renowned seasonal operatic company that resides there, the Glimmerglass Opera.  It is just a lovely  place especially in the quieter days of late autumn when the tourist trade is a bit slower and the beauty of the place shines through. 

Turning by the grand Otesaga Hotel, you head north up the west side of Lake Otsego and come quickly to the museum, resting on a slight rise above the lake.  The museum was built on the former site of the James Fenimore Cooper farmhouse and across the road is the famed Farmer’s Museum with its beautiful stone barns and outbuildings. 

I can’t really tell you how impressed I was with the museum, from the moment I entered the front doors  until the moment we drove away.  It is a truly beautiful space that is maintained to the highest standards.  We met with with Paul D’Ambrosio who we have known for many years and who is the President of the museum.  He gave us a tour through the galleries, giving us an education on many of the pieces.  For instance, the piece shown to the right, Eel Spearing at Setauket from William Sidney Mount, is considered the painting which serves as the face of the Fenimore Collection.  We were told that the lady in the painting from 1845 still has family that lives near the site of this painting on Long Island and that they periodically make the pilgrimage to the museum to visit their now famous ancestor.

After seeing most of the collections, including the  fabulous Thaw Collection of American Indian Art, we finally made our way to the galleries on the second floor and came to the East Gallery, where next year’s exhibit will be held.  I was a bit nervous with anticipation, to tell the truth.  But finally seeing the space and visualizing my paintings in the space helped settle my nerves.  The space is neither small nor large but has a sense of intimacy that I think will serve my work well.  There is a fireplace at one end that I could see my work easily hanging above.  The anxiousness of the unknown faded away and the actual idea of how the show might look began to take its place.  I now had sometihing tangible on which  to build the show.  A different sort of anxiety set in but it is the kind I often have before any show so I view it as an old friend who will ultimately help me in my task.

We talked for a bit about wall colors for the show which I hadn’t even considered.  I began considering colors that will push the work forward off the walls and accentuate the color in my work.  As we were leaving, Paul told me that my show would ne hanging at a great time next year as the show  hanging at that time in the other upstairs gallery would be an exhibit of American Impressionism featuring Mary Cassatt.   They would have a Monet, as well, to show his influence on the American painters.  He said there would be great crowds in the late summer for that show and would be great exposure for my exhibit.

So, we departed and I drove through the rain of that day with new concepts of how the work in the exhibit would relate to the space and to each other.  I began to have second thoughts about some pieces that I had originally thought might be perfect and paintings that I had dismissed began to come back into play.  The visit and the tremendous quality of the space and the works there raised the bar for what I wanted from my own work.  The task now seemed larger than before and I knew that I would have to really focus in order to make it work as I know it can.

In short, it was a good visit.  Thanks for the wonderful tour, Paul!

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Beauty translates across all cultural boundaries. 

We visited the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown this past Thursday, to tour the facility and get a better view of the space where my work will be hung in an exhibition that opens in August of 2012.  I will write more about that in the upcoming days but I feel compelled to expand first on my opening sentence above in relation to this visit. 

 We finished our visit by heading into the spectacular addition to the museum that houses the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art,  considered to be one of the finest collection of Native American art in this country.  It’s pretty amazing that this group was only assembled since 1988.  The Thaws were committed to finding work that best represented the artistry in Native American objects based on their philosophy that the aesthetic power of American Indian art is equivalent to that from any culture.  This has resulted in a collection that is not home to  a few masterpieces set among some other lovely but typical pieces. 

 No, it is a collection of masterpieces. 

To give you an idea of the strength of this collection, there is a traveling exhibition from the collection that has been wowing museum goers in Cleveland, Milwaukee and Dallas museums and is set to open in Indianapolis on December 2.  It has 111 pieces from the collection and has earned rave reviews from critics for the sublime nature of the collected pieces.  Yet, you would never know anything was gone when you go through the collection on display at the Fenimore.  We went from display to display, our mouths open with wonder, the superlatives coming from us seeming so insufficient after a while.

Perhaps the highlight of their collection is the basket shown above, the famed Beacon Lights basket made by Washoe basketmaker Louisa Keyser, Dat So La Lee in her native language.  It is considered a treasure of American Indian art, called for the many years the most famous basket in the world.  It took Keyser 14 months to weave this masterwork and when it was first sold in 1915 it brought a price of around $1500, a small fortune in that day and a sum that drew headlines for the basket.  It is constructed of willow strips that run in horizontal bands around the basket held together with tiny willow strings that are woven vertically.  The threadwork is extraordinarily fine.  Most of the finest baskets of this sort have 27 strands per inch, or so I am told.  This basket has 30.  But beyond the sheer craft, it is the form that takes your breath away.  It is as pure and graceful a form as you will ever witness. Anywhere, in any culture. 


There are so many examples beyond this spectacular basket that I cannot even begin to start detailing them.  If you’re in Indy, take the time to examine that slice of this collected masterpieces.  Even better, take a trip to the beautiful village of Cooperstown and be prepared to have your breath taken away.  I know that I left the museum with the thought that started this blogpost ringing in my head.  Beauty translates.  Seeing this collection made me appreciate so much more the opportunity I have in communicating with my own work, this chance to create a visual language that goes beyond my own limited spoken and written range, beyond the confines of ones own culture. 

The opportunity to speak to the universal nature of the human spirit.  The work in the Thaw Collection certainly does that.

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John Gadsby Chapman- Excavations on a Roman CampagnaI mentioned in a my post yesterday about my friend, Paul D’Ambrosio, and his new blog.  I spoke of his curatorship at the Fenimore Art Museum but failed to mention a new exhibit that he has put together, America’s Rome: Artists in the Eternal City 1800-1900.

The New York Times didn’t fail to mention it however, having a fine review in yesterday’s edition.

Many congratulations to Paul on his successful exhibit which will hang until the end of the year.  If you’re ever in the beautiful Cooperstown area, stop in and see a lovely town and a wonderful exhibit.

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Russell Schermer 55 MercedesI wrote in an earlier post about how I might proceed if I lost my ability to see which is the primary sense I use in my work.  I felt I would somehow move on in some form creatively.  I saw this fellow’s work yesterday and knew that  my assertions could be correct.

Above is a 1955 Mercedes made by Russell Schermer out in California.  Russell has been blind since birth and has been a fan of cars since he was a youth.  He has a collection of model cars that he replicates by feeling each detail then transferring it to clay.  The result is recognizable but it’s the wavering from exactitude that I find appealing.  It’s like seeing the car in a parallel universe, where lines and shapes are just not quite right but close enough to allow your mind to translate them fully.

RussellSchermerThere is an interesting sense of rightness in his work.  I get the feeling that I could be a claymation figure and could jump in any of these cars and go down the road as the dimensions of the car and everything around it were constantly shifting just a little bit.  

I think the imperfections in them are perfect expressions.  My hat is off to Russell for his work and for jumping over his obstacles.  Good work.  To see his website, Russell’s Relics, click on any of the cars shown here.  

Russell scherrmer 64 impalaI don’t know if Russell’s work qualifies as folk art but I have a longtime friend, Paul D’Ambrosio, that would know.  Paul has started a new blog, American Folk Art @ CGP, as a vehicle for discussion of folk art.  Paul is vice-president and curator of the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA), heading the Fenimore House Museum in Cooperstown.  He also teaches at the Cooperstown Graduate Program for museum studies.  So he knows a little bit about his field which is American folk art.  Anyway, if you’re interested in folk art please check out his blog.  I think you’ll find lots of info.

Russell Schermer

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