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Posts Tagged ‘Fenimore Art Museum’

Ralph Fasanella- May Day -1948

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Today, May 1, is May Day. Some folks see it as a festival of spring  that began as an ancient pagan celebration, complete with May Poles, May Queens and May Baskets. Others recognize it as a day celebrating laborers, trade unions and the working class, otherwise known as International Workers’ Day.

I think that labor unions have been integral to the rise of the American middle class and to many things that we now take for granted. Things like eight hour workdays, weekends, child labor laws, workplace safety, minimum wages, health insurance, paid vacations, retirement pensions and on and on. Things that provide a sense of comfort, security and self-worth for working folks.

I believe that the demise of unions goes hand in hand with the growing chasm in income inequality between the owners and the workers of this world. The owners had the shrewdness and the resources to mount a sustained campaign over the years that constantly painted unions in an unflattering light, to the point that many workers began to side with the owners, often against their own self interest.

It’s the same kind of thought control that makes workers believe that big tax breaks and other benefits reserved for owners will have a magical trickle down effect and will somehow enrich their own lives.

Unfortunately, human nature overrules trickle down economics every time. The benefits that the people in  labor unions fought and died for — yes, died for— are soon under attack from owners who need more and more and more. The labor battles will no doubt have to be fought again at some point and lord knows what ugliness will come from that.

The painting shown at the top and a favorite of mine, is titled May Day and is in the collection of the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown. I thought it was a fitting image for today. It was painted in 1948 by a favorite artist of mine, American folk artist Ralph Fasanella, who I have written about here a number of times. He was a labor organizer in the 30’s and 40’s when the workers’ movement was making the powerful strides that created the mythic middle class that inhabited the America of the 1950’s. I am not going to spend a lot of time describing his career here but will point out that his work often portrayed labor and workers.

It is powerful stuff, to say the least, and pertinent both for its own time and now.

Here is the description for the painting from the museum’s website:

Ralph Fasanella was born in New York City to Italian immigrant parents. He spent his youth helping his father on his ice delivery route, and absorbed the streets, tenements, and people that would later inspire his art. His mother, a literate and socially conscious woman, introduced Fasanella to antifascist and trade union causes. He eventually became a union organizer until he began to paint in 1945. Fasanella was an acclaimed “primitive” painter in the 1940s, and then painted in obscurity for 25 years until his “discovery” in 1972. May Day represents Fasanella’s attempt to capture the spirit of the workers’ movements of the 1930s, focusing upon the huge May Day parades that annually drew up to 200,000 demonstrators to Union Square in New York City. At the left, marchers pour out of the crowded streets and tenements and descend upon New York’s Union Square. Their large banners proclaim support for organized labor and racial unity under the overarching cause of “Peace, Democracy, Security.” At the head of the parade is a magnificent horse-drawn float, complete with May Pole and women in ethnic costumes. The marchers pass a reviewing stand with a backdrop that serves as a shrine to labor heroes. Across a colorful bed of flowers lies the artist’s utopian vision at the right. It is a place where workers, liberated from the burden of twelve- and sixteen-hour shifts, have the freedom to pursue cultural and recreational activities.

 

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“Writers remember everything…especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar.
Art consists of the persistence of memory.” 

 Stephen King, Misery

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Never thought I’d be quoting Stephen King here but that final sentence above– Art consists of the persistence of memory-– rings so true for my work. Like the writers he references, I depend on my memory of every scar, every failure, every triumph, every moment of lucidity, every small revelation to give my work some meaning, if only for myself.

That’s what the piece at the top is really about. It’s a painting that has never been available for sale and only showed it in my 2012 show at the Fenimore Art Museum. It’s a keeper and hangs in my studio. The title is Persist (All That We Know) and was the winning entry in a contest I held on the blog back in 2010 when it was painted. There were a lot of great titles submitted for that contest but this one, it turns out, was dead on perfect.

At least as I see it.

I can look at that painting now as I write this and it acts as a centering device, at once bringing me back to what I am truly trying to convey in my work– my scars and how they have shaped me.

Time to get to work.

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GC Myers- Like Sugar In Water

Whenever I find myself going through  images from the past several years, I inevitably find myself stopping when I come to this painting from back in early 2011.  It is simply put and spare in nature but it just has a quietly commanding presence that draws me in.  It was part of my 2012 show at the Fenimore Art Museum and I received many comments from people about this painting who were also struck by it.  I thought I’d rerun the post from back in early 2011 where I wrote about this painting:

I call this painting Like Sugar In Water.  It is a continuation of the group of paintings that I have been working on over the past few months and is by far the largest of the series at 36″ by 60″.   The larger scale gives the piece a real sense of  space and depth that I think carries the work.

This painting evolved in a much different way than I originally thought it might.  As I started, I first saw this as being a piece about movement and saw a large tree bowing in the  gusting wind with leaves being released out into the large space created by the sky, which had its own sense of motion in the brushwork.  But as the sky came into being it changed and I found myself sensing a much different feel for this piece.  It became quieter and the sky didn’t feel frantic but rather had a sense of light breaking into particles and quietly dissolving into a multitude of colors.   Because of this change, the central figure in the painting, the tree, changed for me.  It had to have a calmness but it had to have a different function than my typical red tree.  Here I saw it as a connection between the landscape and the sky, like a conduit of energy from the earth upward.  It would have to be less dominate than my typical red tree.

At this point I set this piece aside so that I could fully consider it.  I really felt that the landscape and the sky were strong and could stand on their own but I wanted to make sure in my own mind.  So I went to work on other work and kept an eye on this piece, continually looking at it and pondering what lay in store for it.  Finally, after a couple of weeks, I decided it was time to let this painting complete its metamorphosis.  I had come to see the tree as being bare of leaves with the branches stretching up into the sky, almost dissolving into the particles of the sky. This feeling of dissolving is carried through in this piece by the landscape as well.  I see it in the road that runs through the structured geometric pattern of the field of the foreground, moving up through the spreading branches of the tree and into the breaking sky.

I see the red chair here, not as I often do as a symbol of memory or of the dead, but as a symbol of the temporary nature of our existence here, living as we do between the solidness of the earth beneath our feet and the particulate nature of the heavens above our heads.  This is reflected in the title as well.  Perhaps the universe is like a large body of water and we are but a bit of sugar.

I don’t know about that.  But I do that I think that there is a lot to be found in this piece and I find myself pondering over it quite often,  taking in whatever message there is in it.

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GC Myers-  À La Mer smIt was a good trip down to Alexandria yesterday.  I was there to deliver the the work for my show, Native Voice, which opens this coming Friday, June 5, at the Principle Gallery there on historic King Street.

It’s always a good feeling to get the work safely into the gallery for any show.  There’s a sense of relief  in this step in the process of letting the work move on to their new lives but there is also a bit of excitement in seeing the work in the gallery environment, to have the staff get their first look and to see how the work itself looks within the space.

For the entire time I have shown with the Principle Gallery, in my 19th year now, the walls of the main gallery space were painted in a burnt orange color, one that really highlighted and complemented the color of my work and may have even, in some small way, influenced the direction of my work’s color palette over the years. But a freshening makeover of the space this past year brought a new wall color, a slightly warm shade of white.

At my first look at it in September, I was fearing that the color would be too cool, too stark.  But seeing it again yesterday, alleviated those concerns and it seems to have gained warmth and I am excited to that the new work, mostly deeply colored with a number of larger pieces, will definitely pop on the new walls.  In fact, the wall color is not to far removed from the wall color of the Fenimore Art Museum gallery where my work hung in 2012 and I was very pleased with how that worked out.

One of those pieces is the one shown at the top, a 24″ by 24″ painting on linen that I call À La Mer which translates from the French as To the Sea.  I like the mix of motion and stillness in this piece with its sky that could almost be an extension of the sea’s movement with ripples of color running through it.  There’s just something tranquil in the way the eye moves toward the sea in this piece, a feeling that very much reminds me of the tone of the old French song La Mer (The Sea) which is better known here in the US by the wonderful version in English from Bobby Darin, Beyond the Sea.

So, of course, for this Sunday’s musical selection I have chosen a version of La Mer, this one by French Canadian singer Chantal Chamberland.  I hope you’ll enjoy it and take that feeling into the rest of your day.  Have a great Sunday!

 

 

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Maxfield Parrish- Daybreak

Maxfield Parrish- Daybreak

I saw this year’s schedule for the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown and was excited to see that on it there was  an exhibit of work from the great Maxfield Parrish. Titled Maxfield Parrish: The Art of Light and Illusion, this show opens May 23 and features 45 pieces– paintings, prints and sketches– as well as some of the props for which he was well known for using.  Here is how the Fenimore describes Parrish’s career on their site:

As one of the most popular American artists of the twentieth century, Maxfield Parrish created fantastic images of fairy-tale figures and idyllic landscapes in a style that was all his own. Through a prolific career that spanned from the 1890s through the 1960s, Parrish became one of America’s first truly “public” artists. The mass reproduction of his paintings—originally intended as book and magazine illustrations, advertisements, calendars, and murals—ensured his reputation as one of the most widely-known figures in the history of art. It has been said that in 1925 a lithograph of his most well-known painting Daybreak [seen at the top of this page] could be found in one out of every four American homes.  Parrish’s magical artwork continues to capture the imagination and inspire today’s artists, musicians, and filmmakers.

Maxfield ParrishI have written here before that he was an influence on my work, especially in the luscious quality of color that he used in almost all of his work.  I liked his better known works, such as Daybreak, here at the top, but it was his lesser known work, quiet landscapes with compositions that intensified the quietness of the solitude they portrayed, that were my favorites.  But I have never seen many of his pieces in person and am really looking forward to being able to closely examine them in the intimate space of the Fenimore.  There is something about seeing the hand of the artist on the surface of a painting that makes me feel somehow connected to the artist, that allows me to imagine them at work at that particular moment when they made that mark.

If you have seen much of my work you will probably recognize Parrish’s influence that I took from the painting below, Aquamarine.  The shape of the tree and the promontory on which it stands, the proportions  of sky and sea, and the way the land sits on the horizon all found their way into my own vocabulary.  More than those obvious elements was the emotional tone that I saw in it and wanted for my own work.

Just great work and a show to which I am really looking forward to seeing up close.

maxfield-parrish-aquamarine

 

 

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GC Myers-  Inner Perception smallThis is a painting from a few years back that has toured around a bit and found its way back to me. Called Inner Perception, it has been one of my favorites right from the moment it came off my painting table.  Maybe the inclusion of the the paint brush (even though it is a house painter’s brush) with red paint in the bristles makes it feel more biographical, more directly connected to my own self.   Or maybe it was the self-referential Red Tree painting on the wall behind the Red Chair.

I don’t know for sure.  But whatever the case, it is a piece that immediately makes me reflective, as though it is a shortcut to some sort of inner thought.  Looking at it this morning, the question I was asked at the Principle Gallery talk a week or so ago re-emerged, the one that asked what advice I might give my fifth-grade self if I had the opportunity.  I had answered that I would tell myself to believe in my own unique voice, to believe in the validity of what I had to say to the world.

I do believe that but I think I might add a bit to that answer, saying that I would tell my younger self to be patient and not worry about how the world perceives you.  That if you believed that your work was reflecting something genuine from within, others would come to see it eventually.

I would also add to never put your work above the work of anyone else and, conversely, never put your work beneath that of anyone else.  I would tell myself to always ask , “Why not me?”

This realization came to me a couple of years ago at my exhibit at the Fenimore Art Museum.  When it first went up it was in a gallery next to one that held the work of the great American Impressionists along with a Monet.  I was initially intimidated, worrying that my work would not stand the muster of being in such close proximity to those painters who I had so revered over the years.

But over the course of the exhibit, I began to ask myself that question: Why not me?

If my work was genuine, if it was true expression of my inner self and inner perceptions, was it any less valid than the work of these other painters?  Did they have some greater insight of which I was not aware, something that made their work deeper and more connected to some common human theme?  If, as I believe, everyone has something unique to share with the world, why would my expression of self not be able to stand along their own?

The answer to my question was in my own belief in the work and by the exhibit’s end I was no longer doubting my right to be there.  So to my fifth-grade self and to anyone who faces self-doubt about the path they have chosen, I say that if you know you have given it your all, shown your own unique self,  then you must ask that question: Why not me?

 

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Dorothea Lange - Migrant Mother

Dorothea Lange – Migrant Mother

In a couple of days, on September 18th, there is a new exhibit of the photos of Dorothea Lange opening at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown.  If you don’t know the name, you still probably are familiar with her images which include the iconic photo shown here on the right, taken in 1936 while she was working for the Farm Security Administration.  Migrant Mother is one of those images that seem to capture with a glimpse all of the sorrow and hardship of those affected in the Depression-era Dust Bowl,  in this case a mother forced to leave her home and wander in search of work that will provide for her children.

Her worry is etched on her face.  While John Steinbeck‘s book The Grapes of Wrath brought the plight of these displaced farmers of that time to the light, it was  Lange’s imagery that  gave them  a sense of humanity  and dignity that reached out and created an empathy with the viewer.  It was powerful, plain and simple.

Dorothea Lange- Grandfather with grandson  at Manzanar CA Camp

Dorothea Lange- Grandfather with grandson at Manzanar CA Camp

Some of her most powerful work came from an assignment she took with the War Relocation Authority during  WW II, when she was hired to document the interment of Japanese-American citizens.  Lange captured the humanity of these prisoners of race at a time when even the liberal and progressive elements in this country maintained silence over the shameful treatment of these citizens.  The photos were censored by the army during the war and were never seen until they were quietly moved to the National Archives, almost 50 years later.

Lange lived from 1895 until 1965, surviving the polio as a child which left her with a distinct limp for the rest of her life.  But neither the limp nor the chronic ulcers that plagued her for the last decades of her life could slow her down.   She sought to affect social change with her images, to give voice to the disenfranchised and down-trodden.

So, if you’re in the Cooperstown area, I highly recommend stopping in at the Fenimore Art Museum to see this work by this giant of American photography.  I know that I am looking forward to seeing it.

Dorothea Lange-  Flag  at Interment Camp at Manzanar CA

Dorothea Lange- Flag at Interment Camp at Manzanar CA

Dorothea Lange Dust Bowl Farm Dalhart Texas

Dorothea Lange- Dust Bowl Farm, Dalhart, Texas

 

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