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Posts Tagged ‘GC Myers’

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The masses do not see the Sirens. They do not hear songs in the air. Blind, deaf, stooping, they pull at their oars in the hold of the earth. But the more select, the captains, harken to a Siren within them… and royally squander their lives with her.

–Nikos Kazantzakis

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I am still working on the Multitudes paintings with their masses of eyeless faces. It’s work that is consuming, acting as a siren of sorts, drawing me to it and keeping me from moving on to other things. It is much like author Nikos Kazantzakis describes above.

It reminds me also of a newer painting shown at the top that was finished just before jumping into the Multitudes pieces. It is a 24″ by 18″ canvas that I am titling Call of the Siren. It incorporates the Red Tree and the Red Roofs along with a band of color at the bottom that represents the sea.

This bottom section has a pattern that seen with the vertical piers of the dock creates a pattern that feels Greek to me. It wasn’t intended and I can’t say if this pattern, as I see it, is really Greek in origin. But it feels that way to me and perhaps brings the thought of the Sirens of Greek mythology to mind when I look at this piece.

Another thing I note in this painting is the the massed buildings of the town seem to form a fence It is another barrier, beyond the sea journey that brought them here, that must be overcome for those who are called by the Sirens. And once one has made it over wide waters and through treacherous cities, there is still a hill to be climbed.

The Sirens never makes things easy.

I know this to be true– I’ve royally squandered much of my life chasing their song.

 

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Walt Whitman: Song of Myself, Part 51

 

The past and present wilt—I have fill’d them, emptied them.

And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?

Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,

(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?

Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

 

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The image shown on the right is another new painting, a 36″ by 18″ canvas that is part of a new group that has drawn a great deal of my attention lately in the studio. They are large groups of faces that are painted in an almost subconscious manner, with little if any forethought given as to how they relate to the surrounding faces. They emerge from dashes of paint and quickly rendered shapes that cause me to simply find human form in them.

It is very intuitive work. It reminds me very much of the process involved in painting the subterranean artifact layers in my Archaeology series. Just make a mark then transform it into something tangible, something possible.

I have known most of these faces for forty or fifty years. They have lived in me, have emerged periodically on bits of paper, on journal pages and in the margins of the newspaper. Some have shown themselves individually in some of my work through the years– the Exiles, Outlaws and Icons series for example.

But they all seem familiar to me. Some possess a pleasant and friendly aura and others much less so. Some are ugly and bitter in appearance. Some even seem evil and worry me a bit, causing me to ask if they are all just variations of my own self.

I don’t really know.

Part of me says yes. I was instantly reminded of the line from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself  (shown above):  Do I contradict myself?/Very well then I contradict myself,/(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Whitman’s grand poem had him speaking as the voice of the collective consciousness of mid-18th century America, a voice that encompassed all sorts of people and attitudes that make up the stewpot that is this country, then and now. As an artist, the hope is that your own work taps into that same vein, that it speaks to connects with the wider spectrum of people. So, in doing this, in attempting to access this collective multitude, to pull them all from your own inner self.  To do so, you have to find that part of yourself that is part of all of them.

Can it be hope and love? Fear and anger? Or just the emotion of being?

I don’t really know.

What I do know is that there is something in this work that seems right for the moment.  Seeing these groups of faces had me wondering how this had slipped by me for so long. It feels natural, like it should have been part of my work for some time now.

So how had I not did this before? I think the answer is that I needed to develop the skills and visual vocabulary to do these pieces in a way that used the faces in the most impactful way. If I had did this years ago, I think it would have been lacking the color, rhythm and forms needed to make them effective. Those are all things that have come from years and many tens pf thousands of hours in the studio. For me, these paintings are a great coupling of subject-these crude faces– and those elements– color, rhythm and form. I find myself attracted as much by the colors and shapes as I am by the individual faces.

I am considering calling this group Multitudes from the line from Uncle Walt. Or it might still be Masks from the for the appearance the faces have with their dark eyelessness.

I am still trying to figure this out so excuse this off the cuff writing. There are a lot of thoughts emerging and growing even as I write this so I reserve the right to change to contradict myself at some later point. Like Walt, if I contradict myself, so be it — I am large, I contain multitudes.

 

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There is an exhibit currently hanging at the Rockwell Museum in Corning of photos from photographer Yousuf Karsh, who had an incredible ability to capture the essence of his subjects. Many of his shots of the celebrated figures of the 20th century are the best known images of those folks. I saw an exhibit of his work years ago and was really inspired by it. It played directly into a piece from my Exiles series at the time that I wrote about here back in 2008 that I am sharing again below.

The Karsh exhibit at the Rockwell Museum in Corning hangs until May 5.

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Blue GuitarThis is another of the paintings from the Exiles series, a piece titled Exiles: Blue Guitar. This was larger than the other paintings in the series and was the most intricate in design. It was the only piece to show a full body, more or less. The crimson sheets beneath the figure are certainly not typical of my work. Even the blue guitar was an anomaly. I think these things, in themselves, make this a distinctive painting and one that is perhaps the one piece I most regret letting go.

I remember painting this piece back in ’96 with great clarity. The face was based on a portrait of the Finnish composer Sibelius taken by Karshthe famed photographer. I had seen the photo at a wonderful and powerful exhibit of Karsh portraits at the MFA in Boston that knocked me out. Karsh had a knack for revealing the essence of his subjects in a single image.

I was immediately taken with the image of Sibelius’ face. It expressed bliss, but not joy. A painful bliss, perhaps an ecstasy tempered by the knowledge that the world is an imperfect one and that this moment of grace is a fleeting one, soon to be gone. It was exactly the expression I saw for my guitarist and one that I wanted the whole piece to convey.

This painting was the centerpiece of my first exhibit many years ago and remains vividly in my memory. Eventually, I went back in and darkened the background which made the guitarist pop even more. But the images of that change have been lost over the years which I greatly regret. This piece sold years ago and I now have no idea of where this painting ended up. I hope that whoever possesses this piece appreciates all that it represents and gives this sad, blissful guitarist a bit of attention now and then.

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Note: The opening for the for the 25th Anniversary exhibit at the Principle Gallery is next Friday, February 22. I mistakenly wrote here the other day that it was tonight because, well, I get confused and make mistakes sometimes. My apologies for any confusion. Hope you can make it to the show next week!

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“The sun –the bright sun, that brings back, not light alone, but new life, and hope, and freshness to man–burst upon the crowded city in clear and radiant glory. Through costly-coloured glass and paper-mended window, through cathedral dome and rotten crevice, it shed its equal ray.”

― Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

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I guess it’s wishful thinking to be discussing a painting based on light and warmth on a day when we are just beginning to feel the brunt of the bitter cold that has swept down from the polar regions. It’s below 0° right now and it won’t get much above that for the next few days around here. Brrr! So the hope contained in a rising sun and the light and heat from it becomes something to really think about.

The painting above is a new one, a 24″ by 24″ canvas, that I am calling Reaching For The Light. The jumble of upward rising buildings has a new addition to go with the regular roofs and spires–chimneys. This new element gives the effect of an appendage reaching upward from each building to get to the sunlight.

I like that feeling that it gives.

I thought the descriptive snip above from Dickens’ Oliver Twist fit this painting. I often have images based on Dickens’ vivid descriptions of cityscapes from Victorian England in mind when I am working on these type of paintings that are cramped and crowded with buildings. His words created an imagery that stuck firmly in my mind from when I first read them so many years ago.

It was a place of darkness, soot, and shadows. The idea of the sun cutting through the grayness with its cleansing light and warmth is one of hope, one of moving to a better situation beyond the squalor and despair of the moment.

That’s how I am seeing this painting with the Red Tree serving as the symbolic central figure acting out this idea of grasping for the light.

So, on this coldly bitter day, I have to find hope in the same sun that we have come to fear as the ever increasing effects of global climate change become apparent.

Stay warm, folks.

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Was looking through some images of work from around 2006 and 2007 and came across this painting, The Middle Way. It really jumped out at me so thought I’d share it along with a blogpost from back in 2009 about a Henry Miller essay. The painting and the essay seem to fit together well.

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    From the very beginning almost I was deeply aware that there is no goal. I never hope to embrace the whole, but merely to give in each separate fragment, each work, the feeling of the whole as I go on, because I am digging deeper and deeper into life, digging deeper and deeper into past and future. With the endless burrowing a certitude develops which is greater than faith or belief. I become more and more indifferent to my fate, as a writer, and more and more certain of my destiny as man.

      – Henry Miller, Reflections on Writing

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This is a fragment of an essay, Reflections on Writing, from a book of essays, The Wisdom of the Heart, by Henry Miller, the great and controversial author. When I was young his books such as Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn were still being characterized as “smut” and many libraries didn’t have them on their shelves for fear the morality police would swoop in and raise a fuss. Probably many only know the existence and influence of his books from their use in a memorable Seinfeld episode, the one with Bookman the library cop whose hard-boiled dialogue still makes me hoot.

For me, I wasn’t so much attracted to his books by the raciness of the stories but rather by his way of speaking through his words and expressing views that I found at once to be compatible with my own. He observed and said the things that I  wished I could say with a voice and power I wished I possessed. I can pick up one of his books and open to a page anywhere in the book and read and be fascinated without knowing the context of what I’m reading, just from the sheer strength of his writing’s voice.

I see a lot of things in this particular essay that translate as well for painting or any other form of creation. It opens:

Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery. The adventure is a metaphysical one: it is a way of approaching life indirectly, of acquiring a total rather than a partial view of the universe. The writer lives between the upper and lower worlds: he takes the path in order to eventually become that path himself.

Substituting artist for writer, I was immediately pulled in. The path he refers to is the path I often refer to in my paintings, the path we all walk and struggle along on, trying to find the middle way between these upper and lower worlds.

It’s a good essay and one I recommend for anyone who creates in any form and struggles with the meaning of their work beyond its surface. For anyone seeking that path…

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“Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust…. and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

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I have always felt a companionship of sorts with the words of the Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926). I find the themes in his poetry and writings often echoing in the feelings and sensations of my own life.

Perhaps the piece of writing with which I feel the most connected is a series of letters he wrote between 1902 and 1908 to a young Army officer who was conflicted about the choice between pursuing a career either a military officer or a poet. The officer, Franz Xaver Kappus, released them as a book, Letters to a Young Poet, in 1929, three years after Rilke’s death from leukemia at the age of fifty one.

There is so much tremendous advice and guidance in his words that apply to anyone seeking a creative life. I have been mentoring a young artist as part of a program with a local arts organization and I only wish I could pass on a tiny fraction of Rilke’s advice to this artist. I had a very enjoyable talk with him the other day and while I believe there was some good advice given, it certainly didn’t approach the depth and breadth of that given by Rilke.

Take the bit at the top of the page, speaking of how to deal with the artist’s journey and growth. He describes the solitary nature of this journey, one that creates changes that sometimes take the artist mentally beyond and away from those people around him. That is the natural course for the artistic journey. In order to grow, the artist must be willing to seek and travel to places internally to which they cannot fully take or even properly describe to those around them.

This inner journey can be both a testing and a blessing. Finding common ground in which to live in this world with those around the artist is an important step in coping with this inner journey.

I didn’t mention that to the person I was mentoring. Maybe next time.

The painting at the top is from 2004 and is titled, appropriately, Common Ground. I definitely see the wise words from Rilke in this painting.

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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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