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Posts Tagged ‘Obsessionism’

This is a painting from back in 2002 titled Muse.  It was part of a series I was painting at that time, in the months after 9/11, that some of my galleries still call my Dark Work. It was painted in a style that I call my obsessionist style these days, meaning that it is painted by building layers of color over a dark ground as opposed to the reductive style I have used so much in the past where I apply a lot of wet paint, puddles, then pull it off the surface until I reach the desired effect.

When I was doing these paintings they seemed like a stark contrast to the reductive work, especially given the tone of that time.  They were well received although not with same gusto as the lighter, more transparent,  work.  I felt very strongly about this work but allowed my desire to please the galleries need for my most sellable work override my desire to pursue this work to further levels.  I moved back to primarily painting the wetter reductive work and was able to continue to push that work further through color and texture.  I never regretted the move back to this work but there was always a little nagging voice in the back of my mind that I hadn’t pushed the other work to its full destination and had let outside influences hinder an inner process.

I have begun to see my body of work as my own personal narrative, the story of who I am and how I am seeing my world at any given time.  In order for it to be so it must be an honest and complete reflection, guided by my own inner muse and not outside forces telling me what I should or should not do.  It took a while but I realized that I have the ability and right to control my own personal narrative, to tell my story in my own way.

I’ve done this in many ways for years already.  I am constantly given ideas for paintings or am requested to do commissions but seldom do I follow up on them unless they fit in with where I see my work heading.  In that aspect, I normally reject outside influence.  I stick to my narrative.

The piece above, Muse, actually fits this post well in that it now belongs to a man who asked me to do a painting of his son, a truly gifted guitarist.  He sent me photos and they were wonderful.  He was long and lanky with a really interesting ethereal  look, a portrait painter’s dream.  In fact when I looked at the pictures I could only see him as painted by other painters I know.  I struggled for a while trying to do something with this but in the end I realized it wasn’t part of who I was at that point, not part of my narrative.  I let it slide and after a long while, apologetically explained this to the father who was extremely gracious.

So I am back focusing more, at this time, on this obsessionist work, allowing it to be a bigger part of my story.  I will continue to paint in the other style but I just feel that there is something waiting to be told, something to be discovered in this other work at this time.  That is my decision made without outside influence, my choice for my personal narrative.

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Burn Away the DarkI have discussed before how I translate my paintings for myself.  I have often described the blowing red tree I sometimes use as being symbolic of sacrifice or giving of oneself to something larger than oneself.  Or I have said that it could symbolize the sending out of something into the universe.  A message.  A prayer.  A hope or desire.

But there is another that I may have missed.  This new painting reminded me of what it might also stand for.

The flame.

It has the look of the flame and reminds me of the fire of thought, wisdom  and creation.  The flame that illuminates, chases away the darkness.

The flame of reason.

That’s how I immediately read this painting as it came to its completion.  It has a real feeling of underlying darkness and the way the tree sat with the light breaking over the horizon really enhanced the feeling of the tree as a flame, burning away the dark.

I’ve been spending a lot of time the last few days looking at this 16″ by 20″ canvas.  There is a real, active sense of hope in this painting, a feeling that reason can endure and prevail through dark times.

Let’s hope…

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And the New Day Approaches...This is another new piece that I’m calling  And There is a New Day…  It’s a 24″ by 30″ canvas and is in the obsessionist style that I have been primarily focusing on lately, which is closer to traditional painting than the usual style I have used for the past 13 or 14 years.

I really like the feel of this painting.  The underlying texture is such that it really allows the darkness to show through while still bearing lighter paints above.  This texture also gives a slightly ragged edge on the lines, which really alters the overall look.  It gives it a less controlled feel.  It reminds me , in a way, of some examples of German Expressionism and American Modernism of the  early 1920’s.  This piece still is more controlled than many of the pieces that it brings to mind but still has the give and take of light and dark that I so admire.

The theme of this piece is a familiar one for me.  There is sense of being caught in a pause, waiting for the onset of something.  A new day.  A new wind.  A new path.  In this case, it is light of the new day breaking over the horizon.  I like the way the light breaks into confetti-like dabs of color.  It creates a real vibrancy, a sense of movement forthcoming that is spreading over the sleeping village.  The houses have no windows or doors, as is usual for such pieces of mine.  I sometimes think the absence of the doors and windows symbolizes sleep in my paintings but I’m not really sure if that’s all I really see.  There are other times when I think they symbolize a general inward turning, an introversion where there is no awareness of the outside world.  Sometimes, I just think I like the look without the windows or door.

I like that there’s a little mystery in that interpretation, even for myself.  The excitement in painting for me is in not knowing what will emerge.  The day that I know how everything in one of my paintings will turn out or be translated will be the last day I need to paint.

This painting makes me glad that I do still need to paint…

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High WindowsAfter working on the large painting whose progress I have been chronicling, I moved back to a few pieces that were incomplete and needed the final touches to come alive.  This is one , a fairly large canvas measuring 30″ by 40″, painted in the same obsessionist manner as my recent work.  This piece has a lot of things working for it- the way all of the landscape elements converge at the center, the pull of the alternating rows of the field, etc.

But the sky is the obvious star of this painting is the vivid sky.  It has a real glow in the studio and my eye is always pulled to it.  It is just calling for one’s attention.  The sky is intentionally comprised of built up layers of colorful daubs of paint.  I wanted the sky to have that appearance of the sky coming apart, separating into individual lights sources.  The result is a really active sky, full of movement, that is a dynamic backdrop for the quietness of the landscape below.

As I was finishing it, I began thinking of the colorful daubs of color in the painting as being stained glass windows, kind of suspended in the sky.  That reminded me of the poem, High Windows, from the late British poet Philip Larkin.  It’s an interesting poem, one that seems full of cynicism at first glance, almost rejoicing in the loss of reverence in the world.  But the last few lines have the cynic dissolving into a sort of new awe and  reverence for the immense unknown, which are symbolized to him by high windows.  That is the same immense unknown I see in the sky of this painting, which is now titled High Windows.

Anyway, here is the poem from Larkin.  I’m also enclosing a video that has the voice of Larkin reading his poem.  It’s always interesting to hear the author’s reading of the words, his rhythm and cadence.  Gives you more of an idea of his aim in writing the piece.  Hope it works for you…

High Windows


When I see a couple of kids

And guess he’s fucking her and she’s

Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm,

I know this is paradise


Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives–

Bonds and gestures pushed to one side

Like an outdated combine harvester,

And everyone young going down the long slide


To happiness, endlessly. I wonder if

Anyone looked at me, forty years back,

And thought, That’ll be the life;

No God any more, or sweating in the dark


About hell and that, or having to hide

What you think of the priest. He

And his lot will all go down the long slide

Like free bloody birds. And immediately


Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:

The sun-comprehending glass,

And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows

Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

—Philip Larkin

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Final Version (?) GC Myers 2009Well, here’s what I’ve come up with for the painting that I’ve been working on over the past two weeks.  I added one window, on the central structure (thanks, Brian, for the suggestion) and went with twisting bare trees on the ridge to mirror the road.  I also added a little more light in the central section.

And there it is.  So far.

There is always the possibility that over the next week or so I may change it in some small way, a highlight here or there.  Just little tweaks to fine tune the weight of the piece.  When I say weight I refer to the way I look at the painting as though it were suspended from a center point in the painting and each visual element to either side of that point added weight, causing the painting to lean to the side with more visual weight.  I try to keep the painting centered and balanced on this center point, changing the weight on each side by adding elements or enhancing those that are there to create more visual interest, by which I mean weight.

Thus far, I like this piece a lot.  It has a lot of wallop in the studio with its size, 42″ high by 60″ wide, and its masses of bright red roofs.  The feeling of the piece has evolved over the process.  I originally felt that the focus and feeling of the piece stemmed from the area where the sky met the far ridge.  But the simple addition of one tall window  brought the focus down lower to that structure and changed the complete impact of the piece, giving it a feeling of warmth beyond the warmth of the colors.  Human warmth.

So that is basically how I paint in my additive  or obsessionist style, which is quite different  that my typical pieces which are reductive, which means I add lots of paint in a liquid fashion then pull paint off the surface to reach my desired end.  I may or may not show that in the future.

So this piece will stay with me for a few more weeks in which time, when I am fully satisfied of its completion, it will  be varnished then framed.  I use an archival quality varnish with UV protection to prevent fading from normal light over the coming years.  I usually use a gloss because I like the added brilliance and depth it adds.  The frame comes from my good friend Stephen who has built my frames for about the last twelve years.  He generally uses native poplar which gives a fine grain which beautifully accepts the stain that I apply after receiving the raw frames from him.   I will talk more about framing in a later post.

The final step is applying a title to the painting.  I have a few ideas but am open to suggestions.  No contest this time although there may be another in the near future.

But for now, if you have any ideas, let me know…

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GC Myers 2009 adding BlueWell, this painting, a 42″ by 60″ canvas, is closing in on what may be its final appearance, at least in my head.  I have the sky close to where I see it finishing, the village only needs some highlights here and there  and the landscape is basically set in place.

My next move is to move into the last large area that needs paint- the waterway and the land on either side of it.  I first go in with a manganese blue, a rich color that I can play off as I move along.  I often use blue for water even though it seldom appears that way in nature.  There seems to be a childish element that allows us to imagine or see blue as water.  For me, it goes back to how the color plays off the other colors.  The harmony produced is more important to me.  I also start adding color to the bridge at this point, although I see it changing in color over the rest of the process.

GC Myers 2009 Nearing the Finish LineFrom there it’s on to putting some color into the lower segment of landscape around the waterway and the structures.  I start with a dark Hunter green which actually darkens this space with a real earthy almost black green tone.  I like the way this sets everything off but am feeling it’s a little too deep and dark, almost flat in dimension.  I think that I probably lighten this soon but I first transition back into the water where I start laying in a lighter blue over the darker manganese underneath.  There is a bit of violet mixed with the blue I’m using which warms the blue just a bit.  I feel like I’m close to where I want this to be at this point but there is still a little work ahead, especially on the water and the bridge.

I start by lightening the bridge so that it has more contrast against the blue of the water.  I want contrast but not so much that the eye settles there.  I next begin adding a little depth in the green of the landscape with a mix of cadmium orange and yellow, once more put on with a light, dryish brush.  The  technique with the brush is as though I’m dusting something off the canvas with short, quick strokes, leaving only a residual of pigment.  This little bit of color atop the green makes a huge difference and I take this same color and technique into the water, really lightening the color so that it has a violet-slatey color, much less blue than it started.  Here’s where I am:

DSC_0106 smallSo I’m near the end and I really like the feel so far with this painting- but…  There’s always a but.

But I really feel it needs one more element beyond the village to bring it all together.  A real object of focus.  Like the tree or trees I mentioned in yesterday’s update.  Or I could take one of the larger, centrally located structures and put even more highlight, more brightness on it.

I’m leaning toward the tree but this is the part of the process where the painting sits for a while in the studio and I look at it over the next several days.  I’m consciously weighing all the elements in the painting to see if there is balance in the structure.  Does it hold together as a composition and do all the elements and lines make sense, not make me stop and wonder why this is here or that is over there?  As it stands, does it convey a wholly realized emotional feeling?  Lots of questions.

So, I’m at a terminus and just have to put in some mind time.  Soon it will be done…

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GC Myers 2009 Taking ShapeI am now into the part of my process where things happen much quicker and all the pieces fall into place.  I first proceed by moving in with a combination of white paint, unbleached titanium, along with some deep cadmium yellow, painting the walls of the structures.  This really brings light to the surface and opens up the whole surface.  In painting these walls I generally highlight one side of each structure which gives the appearance of that side receiving light and the other being in shade.  I don’t necessarily have this representation of light completely accurate.  I’ve said before that I am more concerned with how the whole thing translate more than being completely true to nature.

GC Myers 2009 White in PlaceTo further illustrate my point, if you look at this second photo with all of the white in place, you’ll notice that the highlighted side of each structure is facing the center of the painting.  Much like my roofs, I am trying to bring the eye to the center of the painting.  I hope I am not jading how people will look at my work but in my mind, this manipulation of natural light translates in my brain as being natural, having a sense of rightness.

GC Myers 2009 Brightening the SkyNow I’m moving  along faster and decisions are made quickly.  I immediately jump from the village to the sky and start layering in different shades of yellows and whites, trying to locate where my light focus will lay.  Usually in a piece like this, one with a central cradle or saddle, I will have the light intensity grow from the low point.  Such is the case with  this piece.  It’s at this point that I begin to also start to re-darken the far edges of the sky, inserting more red and also a few selected strokes of a light violet.

GC Myers 2009 DetailIn this detail you can see these violet strokes.  In the final version of the painting these strokes may barely show but even the smallest bit that does show through brings me a real sense of delight when I look at the sky of the painting.  This tiny detail, I feel, brings a fullness or richness to the whole piece.  I can’t fully explain this but I know I feel better when it’s there when I’m painting in this obsessionist manner.

GC Myers 2009 Building Up LandscapeSo I continue in the sky adding more and more layers of lighter and lighter color.  As you can see, the center is starting to glow a bit.  When I am close to where I want the final sky to be, I move to the edge and put on a thin transparent layer of  a nickel azo gold color, burnishing it so that it blends into the rest of the sky but darkens the edges.  When I’m somewhat satisfied ( I don’t have to be completely satisfied at this point- there is room to re-enter at a later point in the process), I begin to ponder how to bring the landscape alive with color.  I want it to maintain some darkness, to give a contrast to the sky and make it pop with light, but I still want a certain vividness.  I’m also trying to create more distance into the picture.  I have found that this creation of distance often dictates how effective my paintings will be.  In this painting I have chosen an orangish blend of color for the farthest layer and a deeper red for the one before it.  Both are deep and dark in color and show well under the brightest part of the sky above.

So, I stand back and look at this thing.  I think I’m ready to work on the waterway and the bridge next, starting to feel what I may need to do incorporate these elements smoothly into the rest of the composition.  I first add a light layer of the red oxide to the water surface.  It probably won’t show through much but what does will have a unifying effect with the rest of the painting.  I’m starting to look at the road on both sides of the waterway and how it rises to the horizon in a very viney, limb-like way. GC Myers 2009Wanting to mirror this effect, I’m beginning to think that I may use some bare, bony trees on the top ridge, dark silhouettes against the skylight.  This would be an expansion of an idea I used in this piece that I finished a few weeks back, a much smaller 12″ square piece.  It’s a piece that I like a lot and feel that the trees could be really dynamic in the sky of this larger piece.

But that’s something I will have to debate in my head before I jump in too deeply.  Decisions at this point in a painting can have a major influence on the final feel of a piece and shouldn’t be rushed.  But, you never know.

To be continued…

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GC Myers 2009 Buildiing UpI’m at a point with this work in progress, a 42″ by 60″ canvas, where I have basically finished the underpainting which is the process of blocking in the composition.  The next step for me is to start building up color throughout the piece, developing more depth from all the elements.  In this case, I start by using a light application, again almost drybrush, of a yellowish paint.  for this piece I’m using a yellow oxide.

The thinly applied yellow allows me to see dimension yet still lets the darkness of the base’s black and the red of the underpainting show through.  This is something that I feel is crucial to the feeling I’m trying to achieve.  Again, I could easily go through and simply paint each structure with one pure color and save a ton of time but it would lose the effect I desire.  Besides, it gives me more time to consider each subsequent move.

Now comes some red.  I start with a few cross-strokes of a crimson in the sky then start applying some yellow strokes as well, just to start to give light the sky.  I also start to lighten the path in all parts of the painting just to give some more depth.  At this point, I’m also pondering if I should start working a bit on the waterway as it is such a large and crucial element in the lower half of the painting and it’s darkness at this point might alter how I proceed with other elements.  After some thought, I decide against working on the waterway and move on to the roofs of the structures.

GC Myers 2009 Adding the Red RoofsAgain, I use a crimson red that is a bit darker which gives me a bit of leeway so that I can lighten roofs later as I see the need.  I’m beginning to see more and more light in the piece at this point and can see areas where I want to concentrate in some of the next steps in the process.  For instance, sides of the houses that will be a sort of focal points through the piece.  I’m reminded also at this juncture of how the roofs of the village act as little pointers or arrows that move the eye upward in the picture.  I do this with other elements as well, in may of  my paintings, everything pushing the eye toward the center of the painting.  It didn’t start as a conscious effort but I became aware that I was doing this years ago and have been doing this subconsciously, albeit with an awareness,  for years.

I was a little apprehensive in showing how I paint in this style, afraid that it might take away some of the mystique of the final paintings, make it seem that  the work was a pure product of process.  But taking the time to write down how I proceed makes me realize that while there is a process it is the decisions that are made during the process that make it either work or not work.  Intuition and a constant visual weighing of elements play huge roles in this decision making, which makes each piece unique beyond the process.  These are things that I take for granted in my day to day existence in the studio, parts of the process that are below the surface and operating on a subconscious level but are perhaps the most important aspects of the process.

So, I’m on to the next step.  Stay tuned…

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GC Myers 2009 Underpainting #@So I’m well into the underpainting of this large 42″ by 60″ canvas, a step that is perhaps the most important in my process.  This part of the process really builds the final composition and gives me guideposts as it grows to what the final product might be.  As I’m painting, I’m taking in parts of the painting that I will later enhance and highlight.

In this top photo I build three layers of landscape beyond the village with a path running through them.  This adds depth and distance into the picture plane and creates an atmosphere of sorts.  It changes what the focus of the painting might end up being.  This addition, in my mind, brings in the possibility that the path running farther into this landscape says something about what might be coming or what has gone.  It’s not all about the static existence of the structures.

GC Myers Underpainting DetailAfter finishing this bit of landscape, I turn my attention to building my sky.  Again using a red oxide, I start a rough cross-hatch and fill the area where the sky will be.  At this point in the process, I am not yet thinking about the way the light will emerge from this sky.  I am merely putting down a base from which the sky will grow .

GC Myers Underpainting SkyTo many painters, this may seem like needless work.  By that I mean there are quicker ways to proceed with this sky to reach a similar final product.  However, for me, this is the way I have adapted that best fits with the way my mind operates.  It is slower in process and forces my mind to be less reactive, allowing me to take in the whole  picture and adjust, bit by bit.  I t just works best for me.

GC Myers 2009 Underpainting FinalMy next step is to finish the area on the right side of the waterway ,in the bottom right quarter of the painting.  I’ve decided I want to continue the road through the house and have some smaller roads off it.  I just felt that area needed a little more visual interest but don’t want it to be too fussy.  As I wrote before, I want the lower parts of the painting to enhance the whole, not dominate.  The only part of the painting that is left blank at this point is the waterway.  I sometimes also use a layer of red oxide in this situation but I’m leaving it blank for the time being to see how the areas above evolve.  They’ll dictate how I will proceed with the waterway.

So I’m basically done with the underpainting.  I have a really good idea at this point how the painting will grow although it can often change, especially in it’s emotional tone or feeling,  beyond this point in the process.  The next step is to start introducing more color and build.  I’ll let you know how it goes…

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GC Myers 2009 UnderpaintingSo I’ve been working on this large painting, a 42″ by 60″ canvas, as I noted in Saturday’s post.  When I last wrote I had just blocked in the lower parts of both sides and had the bridge just sort of sitting alone in the middle.  Since then I have continued with the underpainting in the red oxide that I prefer to use.  Most of this is applied in an almost dry brush way, where I put my brush into paint then swab a lot of it off before applying it to the canvas.  It leaves a lighter layer of paint, allowing the black underneath come through.  It takes a bit longer but it suits the way I see the thing building and growing.

It also takes a lot more time than one might suspect in growing the village from the start, especially in a way that makes it feel organic and not just thrown together.  Each new element informs the next and there is a bit of time spent just looking at each piece to make sure that it plays off the form below and beside it.  This is even more crucial in such a large canvas because I’m trying to maintain a continuity of form throughout the whole piece so elements in different areas of the canvas still relate to one another.

As the village grows upward I begin to try to decide how I want it to transition into either a background or sky or if I want to simply have the structure fill the entire picture plane.  I decide here that I want to have sky so I start to think of how I will have the structures end near the top of the canvas.  As I’ve been looking here I have chosen to have the village move into a somewhat empty landscape and that  into the sky.  I want to create a saddle-like structure with the landscape so that the light I create in the sky will be cradled by the landscape below.  I often do this in my work and I think it has to do with this cradling effect holding the light in a way that brings the eye to the lowest point, creating a focal point off of which the rest of the painting plays.  It’s a funny feeling writing about this because when I’m making these decisions, it’s very seldom near the front of my mind.  They’re just done in stride, instinctually,  as I’m taking in what I’m seeing.

GC Myers Underpainting DetailI’m also at a point in the canvas where I have a bit of space at the lower center of the piece, around the bridge and banks of the waterway.  I start to fill in this area, adding detail although it’s not real fine detail.  I want this space to have interest and detail but not so much that it becomes the sole focus of the work.  I see the light that I will create where the sky meets the landscape in this painting as the more important area of focus, conveying more of the feeling that I’m hoping will emerge.

So I keep working upward and as I near where I feel I want to stop the structures I begin to start get a feel for how the landscape itself will continue.  Here’s where I am at this point and where I’ll leave it for now.

GC Myers 2009 Underpainting

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