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Posts Tagged ‘Early Paintings’

Folk Blues- LeRon's Yellow Guitar -GC Myers 1994



This morning, I thought I would combine another old piece with this week’s Sunday morning musical selection. The painting above is one of my earliest pieces, completed in early 1994.

It was at a point before I had what I considered then and now to be a breakthrough with my work. I was still working with watercolors solely and using them in as close to a traditional manner as someone who is self-taught can. I still find the qualities of that medium really appealing and use many of them– in a manner that is adjusted to fit the way I think– in much of what I call my transparent work with inks.

This piece was titled which meant that I saw something in it that deserved a name. That’s one way I judge some of this earliest work. There are some pieces in my files that don’t have titles which means that while I may like the piece or see something of value in it, I don’t feel it is complete and whole.

I think I saw this piece as being whole even though at the time I didn’t feel it was good enough to exhibit. Maybe it wasn’t that I didn’t think it was good enough, maybe it was more that by the time I was showing my work a year after this my work had changed, moved away from this style.

It’s titled Folk Blues/ LeRon’s Yellow Guitar. It certainly has flaws but there is much in it that I like.

Anyway, thought this would pair up with an old blues tune written and first recorded in the 1920’s, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out. This version is from early blues artist Scrapper Blackwell who is an interesting case.

Blackwell was born in South Carolina in 1903 and moved to Indianapolis, Indiana as a child. He built a cigar box guitar and taught himself to play, becoming a performer in the Indy/ Chicago areas as a teenager. Around this time he met and partnered with pianist Leroy Carr. In the late 1920’s until around 1935, the two were very successful as songwriting and recording artists. One of their best known songs was Kokomo Blues which was later transformed into the song most of us know as Sweet Home Chicago.

The duo lived pretty large at that time with lots of drink and partying. However, Carr died from physical complications from this lifestyle in 1935. Blackwell floundered for a couple of years before dropping out of the musical scene altogether. He settled into an obscure life in Indianapolis as a manual laborer in an asphalt plant for the next 20 years. In the late 1950’s he reemerged as a musician, recording several albums of his early blues over the next few years. The song below was recorded during this period and is pretty poignant in that at that time he truly knew the highs of stardom and the lows of poverty and obscurity.

His renewed career was taking hold at a time when the blues were undergoing a revival in the early 1960’s when he was shot and killed while being mugged in an Indy alley in 1962. He was 59. As a result, his influence in the blues revival never really extended out to the wider audiences that other blues artists were able to tap into in the mid 1960’s. Most of you have most likely never heard of Scrapper Blackwell.

This is a really nice recording of an old blues song. The kind of song LeRon at the top would feel right at home with. Give a listen to Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.



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I was looking at some more old small paintings, stuff from before I ever showed my work in public. This piece from late 1994 always jumps out at me. It has a title written below the image (cropped out in the photo above) that says Lester’s Place. I don’t really know why I called it Lester’s or to who or what the name might refer. 

There’s something about this little piece that I really like. Maybe it’s as simple as its colors. Maybe it’s the sense of place it evokes for me. Or the mystery of its narrative.

I don’t know. 

And I don’t think I need to really know. I just like it for whatever reason. The funny thing is that I often think of this old John Lee Hooker song, Rock House Boogie, from the mid 1950’s when I look at this piece. This shack has the same sort of roughness and emotional coloration of this song. I can imagine someone in 1954 stumbling upon this after hearing years of music from groups like the Four Freshmen and the Modernaires on the radio. 

It’s hard driving beat and sharp snapping guitar riffs would most likely create a sense of revelation or one of bewilderment and maybe even terror.

For me, even twenty years later, it was revelation.

Now, that beat has me wanting to get to it for the day. Give a listen and get to your own day.



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To tell the truth, I had nothing in mind this morning for the blog. I was thinking that I would be too busy plowing but we didn’t get nearly as much of a snowfall as had been anticipated. We got a few inches but most of the precipitation came in an icy rain that coated everything. Not terrible, at least at my place, like some of the scenes I have seen from where the storm dropped larger amounts of icy rain that brought down wires and trees.

So, not having to get out there early to plow I found myself wondering what to talk about this morning. I went back through the archives and came across an entry from over ten years back. It’s about a piece that is in the possession of my sister. It might be my favorite among several she has , one that I always look forward to seeing when I visit her. With the pandemic, there haven’t been any visits so I haven’t had a chance to visit this piece recently. So, I thought I ‘d share it along with a little music at the end that seems to fit, at least in my head, some of the great Son House playing his wonderful Delta blues. Take a look at Big Foot Stomp, painted around 1995. And have a good day.



 

Singing and Mending– Robert Gwathmey



I was looking through a book containing many of the works of the painter Robert Gwathmey when I came across an image that reminded me of a small piece that I had painted several years back. Gwathmey’s painting was titled Singing and Mending and featured, like many of his paintings, a depiction of African-American life from the rural South.

This piece had a man in overalls playing a guitar while a woman mended a piece of clothing. It was the man playing the guitar that caught my eye. Perhaps it was the overalls or the position of the guitar or the bare feet but all I could think of was a similarity in its nature to a small painting that I had painted a few years ago and which now hung on my sister’s wall. It is a little oddity, a favorite that I always look at with interest whenever I go to her place. I call it Big Foot Stomp.



 



It was an experimental piece, a revisiting of another earlier foray in paint when I was just starting  years before. I can’t quite recall what my initial intentions were with this piece. I remember that I laid down the splattered background with spray bottles of paint, masking the lighter center with a piece of matboard as I did the darker outer edge. But I don’t think I ever had this figure in  mind when I began to paint in that center. But I’m glad that he came out in this way.

I recall painting the head first, just laying down a silhouette of paint then trying to make something from it. I remember liking the way the dark paint seemed to pop from the lighter background, making me think this was a black man and that I wouldn’t lighten it any more. It was right as it was.

The rest is hazy in my memory except for a slip in my brushstrokes that affected the size of his feet and for the decision to leave out the parts of his clothing that would normally be visible. For me, these two elements really make this little guy special. There’s something about the white space where his clothing would be that brings a spiritual element to this piece for me, as though his playing and the rhythm of his large feet on the floor are taking him to a place beyond the here and now. I think the way he rests in the splattered background enhances this.

I’ve never painted another piece like this. Maybe he was just meant to be one of a kind. He certainly feels that way. But at least in the Gwathmey piece I have found a spiritual relative to this lone guitar player.



Here’s Son House (1902-1988) and his Levee Camp Blues. House influence on the blues and, by extension, rock music, is huge. He is often cited as an influence on two other giant influencers, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. It don’t get much more real than that.



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Was going to write something new today for Mother’s Day but decided to replay a post from five years back about my own mom, who died close to twenty five years ago now.

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I thought I would take the opportunity on this Mother’s Day, to dedicate this week’s Sunday music to my late mom. It’s hard for me to believe but later this year will mark twenty years [25 now] since she passed away after a short but brutal battle with cancer. Needless to say, I miss her very much and wish she could have seen the things that came in the years after she died, such as how well her grandchildren grew up and the great-grandkids she never got to meet or dote on.

For my parts, she never lived to see my work hanging in a gallery or museum, never got to see how it has grown over the years. Looking at two large pieces on easels next to me at this moment, I realize that there is a whole different world of mine she never got to witness.

But I think she would be pleased to know that things worked out okay, that I found something to ease my mind and give me something of a purpose. I would hope she would like the work I’ve done. I know she liked the earliest pieces, the only ones she would know, like the piece at the top. It was one of my earliest efforts in early 1994, long before I had experienced any kind of creative breakthrough. It was gift to her on Mother’s Day of that year and it hangs in my studio now, always reminding me of her.

So, for this bit of Sunday music, I thought I would play one of the songs I know to be a favorite of hers. She always loved Eddy Arnold‘s voice and I have specific memories of this song coming from our old stereo console. The title and the song itself,  Make the World Go Away, just seemed to fit Mom so well. For that matter, looking at the alternative world that surrounds me here in the studio, I guess it fits me as well. I am my mother’s child, after all.

Have a good Mother’s Day.

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Last July, I wrote here about going up the hill to the old studio that I had worked in everyday for over ten years before moving into my current digs. It was in pretty bad shape back then, with a gaping hole in the roof and the floor heading in several different directions, none of them level. It was a mass of decay and debris but I had found several paintings tucked away that I had overlooked when I was cleaning it out years ago.

There were some I remembered well and had wondered where they were before finding them. It was great finding these pieces, most of them in pretty good shape considering the exposure to the elements– and critters of all sorts– they had faced.

I wandered back up the hill yesterday. There were still a few things there that I needed to bring back down the hill plus I wanted to see how the old structure had fared during this past winter.

Well, the structure was in even worse shape, the walls and floors beginning to part company at some spots and the hole in the roof expanding to let in even more of the weather. Mother Nature was quickly reclaiming everything she could. I gingerly moved through the tilting doorway and picked around in the debris, finding the items I was looking for. As I prepared to leave, I stopped by group of three or four old paintings that I had left last year. They were not good in any way. Kind of embarrassing , actually. Plus, I didn’t even want to waste the time to carry them back down the hill.

But I went through them again and while I agreed with my decision from last year to leave them, there was one that grabbed my attention. It’s the piece at the top. It was painted about 25 years ago and I remember, even then, not knowing what it was meant to be.

It was an enigma even when I first painted it. I may have painted it but I still don’t get it, don’t fully understand what it’s supposed to say. But I do remember painting it and liking things about it. The colors of the sky the mass of the crowd behind the glowing figure that seems to be reclining on a cross. Not nailed. Like it was his decision to be there.

Maybe it’s saying that we choose the crosses we bear?

I don’t know.

Perhaps it was just the contrast between its colors and the destruction around it, but this piece seemed to ask to be freed from the wreckage. It’s in rough shape from a decade or more of exposure and neglect. It was painted on a cheap canvas panel and the cardboard backing that was now deteriorating and falling apart. But something in it sparked my imagination, made me want to look at it again. Made me save it for another day.

So, I brought it back down to my current studio. It’s been propped up on a chair and I have stopped to examine it several times over the past day. And even now, I am still mystified by it and how I came to paint it.

I am pretty sure I didn’t have a title for it back then and maybe it doesn’t deserve one now. Like I said, I still don’t know what to make of it. But if I were to give it a title I might call it You Can Have the Crown, taken from the title of a Sturgill Simpson song. I think the guy on the cross might understand. Give a listen and see if you do as well.

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In the entry here last week where I wrote about old works I had discovered hidden away in my old studio, I mentioned that I had found that the old studio was deteriorating quickly in a visit to it last year. The roof had been breached and the pilings were beginning to fail at that time but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it was after year of exposure to the elements.

In that post I failed to mention that when I was in the studio that time I had also uncovered some other old pieces. As I scanned the damage, I went to a tall counter in the corner that was covered in debris from the collapsing ceiling and roof. Under it was a large cardboard box filled with scrap matboard. I dragged it out and discovered that behind it was a group of plywood panels bundled together.

I pulled them out and turned them around to see their surfaces. I recognized the work immediately. They were from around 1998 up to perhaps early 2000. I had bought a bunch of scrap lauan plywood from a bin at my local hardware store. They were all about 16″ by 36″ and I had sealed them with a wood primer/sealant–Kilz I believe it was– and then a layer of gesso. I had done a bunch of work on this material and many had turned out very well, making their way out of the studio and into galleries. Almost all had found homes.

But this group of four for some reason never made it out of the studio. Don’t think I ever showed them publicly, actually. And looking at them now, I can’t figure out why. Even though they showed some damage from their time under that wet counter– for example, the piece at the top shows some dark spotting on its surface that I have yet to address– these seem like strong pieces from the time frame in which they were created.

I like these four pieces. Maybe its my own personal nostalgia more than an objective evaluation of the work that makes me feel this way. For myself, I can sense the excitement I felt at the time in which I was creating this work, that feeling of discovery in each new piece. Each individual block of color seemed to have its own feel, its own voice and each piece had its own lesson to teach me.

Each day then seemed filled with new discoveries. It was an exciting time for me and I felt like an open conduit, the work pouring easily through me.

It’s a bit different now. The work doesn’t flow endlessly through my conduit now. It comes in surges, fits and starts. But it still surges on a regular basis. Most likely, the experience of having done this for so many years and the knowledge I have absorbed has tempered my response but I still feel giddy excitement and still discover new things within the work and its processes on an almost daily basis. And that is a good thing.

Maybe that is the purpose of this work now– to remind me what it was that I desired and needed to pull from my work then.

And now.

 

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Finisterre is a peninsula at the westernmost point of Spain. In Roman times, it was thought to be the end of the known world.

Thus the name: finis/end + terre/land.

Finisterre.

It is also the title of a lovely song from English folk singer June Tabor that I am featuring for this week’s Sunday music. Very atmospheric.

The accompanying painting at the top is a piece I came across this past week in an old sketchbook from back in 1994, when I was just starting to paint. I hadn’t seen it in some time and was pleased that it had aged well, that it had a completeness that was not the norm for the work I was doing at that time. The rest of the sketchbook, for example, is filled with landscapes that are cringeworthy enough that this piece seems out of place.

I chose it to accompany this song because it also has an atmospheric quality, one that speaks of open space and emptiness. Pauses and the quiet rush of the wind through the grass. It might not be Finisterre but it feels like it might be the end of the world for someone.

Have a good Sunday.

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My annual show at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, Virginia, opens on Friday, June 7th. This year is my 20th solo show there, something that seemed out of the realm of possibility when this run began with the first Redtree show back in 2000.

Nothing seemed guaranteed at that time.

I was still a fairly new artist at that point, showing my work publicly for barely five years with the last two years as a full-time artist. Still had that new artist smell. I understood that the Principle Gallery was taking a chance on me and that this show was a great opportunity for me as an artist. Solo shows in great galleries don’t just come to artists on an everyday basis and the success or failure of such a show could dictate how my career moved on from that point. I knew that all too well.

I remember my trepidation in the months before that first show as I prepared for it. I was operating in abject fear of my own failure was having trouble visualizing what success this show would even resemble. My final goal for the show ended up being that I simply hoped to not be embarrassed.

Fortunately, it turned out to be very successful. That led to the next year and the next and so forth. There have been varying degrees of success with the shows along the way but one thing that seldom changes is the absolute fear of failure that comes with each show. So, here I am, twenty years in, and still feeling that same ball of anxiety in my gut. If anything, it might even be worse because I see this as a personal landmark of sorts. I want it to be a show worthy of twenty years invested by the gallery.

I’ve been looking at some of he work from those earliest Principle Gallery shows, trying to see similarities and differences between the work then and now. To see how it has changed, to see what has been gained and lost. One that struck me this morning was the piece above from 2001 called Symphony to Joy. It’s a piece with what I would term great organic appeal. I mean that it in the sense given by the linework within the piece and the way the colors and forms play off one another. It just seems very natural.

Maybe I shouldn’t try to explain such things.

But what I am looking at is how I can regain that natural feel, that organic sense present in the painting. Twenty years of painting have straightened some lines, taken some spontaneity out of some color choices, and softened some rough edges. Experience and knowledge has taken the place of the urgency of the pure emotion found in these early pieces.

I sit here this morning anxiously wondering how to find a way to merge the experience with that emotional urgency. Hope I can figure it out before June 7th.

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I’ve written about some of the orphans,  as I call those paintings that find their way back to me eventually, never finding a permanent home after showing in most of the galleries that show my work. Fortunately, it’s a fairly small group so I can recall most of the details about each of these pieces, even the older ones. But the painting above has been floating around in my space like a mysterious satellite for so many years now that I have lost all recollection of it.

In fact, I can find nothing about this painting in any of my files. No title. No numbering or date. No photos.

Nothing.

It has been living in a horrible frame that I would be embarrassed to show in public, one that I tried to transform by adding layers of gold paint. That was a bad idea. It made the whole thing, painting included, look absolutely awful. I am relatively sure I never exhibited this painting as a result of how it looked in that terrible frame. At least, there are no records of it being shown.

It’s a 16″ by 20″ canvas and I think that it is from around the year 2000. I say that because it doesn’t have my normal layers of textured gesso under the paint and it is done in oil paints rather than acrylic, which would have been from that timeframe.

I had avoided this painting for years in the studio. I kept it facing away in a small stack against a wall so that I wouldn’t be forced to look at the monstrosity it was in that frame. But recently, curiosity had me pull the piece out. I tried to separate the painting from the frame in my mind but the stink of the frame still overwhelmed me.

If I was going to actually see that painting I had to take it out of that frame.

And I was pleasantly surprised when I did that. Oh, it’s not like I found a lost masterpiece. But freed from the shadow of the unsightly frame, I recognized that it was a good piece, one that would definitely fit within the tone and scope of my work from the time in which I believed it was painted.It wasn’t ugly at all. In fact, I began to grow quite fond of it in its liberated state.

It was like turning over a photo that has been face down in a drawer for years and seeing something that surprises you in a pleasant way, reconnecting you with something you had pushed deeply into the recesses of your memory.  It’s that image that has been hidden for many years where you get to see it anew with a different perception based on personal growth and change.

It’s the same image from the same time but you see it differently.

So I brought it out into my painting space and I look at it now and again. And it pleases me to know this orphan once again.

 

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GC Myers- Exile-MartyrI’ve been looking at my Exiles series quite a bit  lately.  From the mid 1990’s, it’s a highly personal series of faces and figures that kind of act as a landing spot for me to place my rawest emotions during trying times.  The piece shown here is titled Martyr and remains an enigma to me, mainly because I have never had thoughts of martyrdom for myself.  But I have been looking at this quite a bit because of a recent request that I revisit this painting at some point in the future.

The person who requested this sees the body and musculature of this figure as an extension of the landscape and when I look at it with that thought I very much see what he means by that.  I had never thought of it in those terms and it strikes a real chord with me so I am excited to get to his request at some point soon.

Plus he would love to see it in tones of blue.  How great would that be?

Anyway, here’s a bit more that I wrote about this piece here many years back:

This is another painting from the Exiles series of the mid 90’s, titled Martyr.  

As I sit here right now, I am at a loss for words to describe this piece.  While there is overt religious symbolism, for me it is not about that.  It is about self-sacrifice, giving everything for the benefit of others.  

But there is also an element that has to do with fear.

When I look at the torso of this character I see it almost as though he has had his skin removed, baring the muscles beneath.  For me, this translates as one being afraid of the consequences of exposing what lies inside.  In my mind, this martyr has been punished for showing who he truly is.

Maybe I’m describing paranoia.  Maybe it’s a form of agoraphobia or just introversion.

I don’t really know.  

It’s funny that this piece that has hung above my desk for many years still perplexes me and eludes definition.  I’m sure that one would expect to know exactly what was meant when I painted this but quite honestly, when I started this piece I had no idea where it was going.  Even when the figure neared completion I was still scrambling for the true meaning.  The elements that seem to from a crucifix were not present and weren’t even contemplated at first.

So the piece remains an enigma.  Personally, I like that.  It gives me a sense that the piece is beyond the obvious which is what I hope for all my work.

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