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Sometimes I start paintings and somewhere along the way the piece loses its momentum. Or I lose the thread that was initially carrying me along when I started  or I just lose interest in it. The piece above on the left (sorry for the poor image!) might well be an example of all three of these things.

I started this piece a couple of years back and it seemed to just run into a brick wall. I felt like I had painted myself into a corner and didn’t see it going anywhere forward. There was a lot that I like in it. The sky, for instance, and the color of the field. But the way they came together didn’t speak to me and I felt like doing anymore would render an acceptable painting but that would be about it– acceptable.

And who wants to just do acceptable work? That’s not much of an aspiration, especially when so much of my work depends on creating my own interest and excitement in the work.

I thought there should be more to this painting than what it was showing but just couldn’t see it. So it sat. And sat and sat for month after month. I would pick it up periodically and examine it but it still had nothing to say to me as it was. It was irritating.

Then the other day I decided I was going to simply paint over it. Black it out of existence. It wouldn’t bug me anymore, at least. But the idea of blacking it out made me think about altering the whole idea of the painting. Maybe I could save that sky and incorporate it into something different.

So it moved from a landscape to a seascape. And it seems to have worked as I am pleased with the result thus far.

There is a sense of the scale and power of open water in this piece, maybe more than I have portrayed in past similarly themed paintings. I am not a sailor in any way, never been on a small boat out of sight of land but that feeling of the immensity of the ocean is one that I can easily imagine. There must be both a thrill and a terror in it. And that’s what I am getting– fear and exhilaration– from this piece as the small sailboat teeters on on the curl of a large wave.

That dichotomy of emotion, the yin/yang thing of fear and exhilaration in this case, is something often try to find in my work. And it seems to be strong here. So, maybe the years that piece spent being shuffled around my studio before its transformation were worth it.

I’ll be looking at this one for a bit longer…

 

 

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I was at the easel even earlier than usual this morning. It was just after 6 AM and there was something I needed to do on a large piece. something that felt like it had to be done immediately or it would blow up my brain. I took care of that pressing issue and thought I would try to write a blogpost.

Turns out that doing that one thing led to another and, even as I sit here, that painting is loudly demanding more attention. Sometimes they are like infants crying out for attention, for nurturing. So, it’s time for to slap some more paint on my baby.

Here’s song that I haven’t heard on many years from Rory Gallagher, the late great Irish guitarist.  You don’t hear much about him anymore–he died in 1995– but he was a big influence on many rock guitarists of a certain age. This is one his songs that is a favorite of mine, A Million Miles Away. Maybe I can use that title for the painting on the easel. It certainly feels like I am a million miles away when I am working in it.

Have a great day.

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A tree against the sky possesses the same interest, the same character, the same expression as the figure of a human.

Georges Rouault

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Georges Rouault (1871- 1958) has been a favorite of mine for a long time and the quote above certainly falls in line with my own feelings about the image of a tree. I have used the tree, the Red Tree to be more exact, for the past twenty years as a surrogate for the human figure in my paintings. You could pretty much insert a human figure in place of the Red Tree in many paintings and not lose much of the emotional content of the painting.

It would be a different painting, that’s for sure. The presence of the figure would focus everything on the specific human aspects portrayed in it. Is it a man or a woman? A child? Tall or short? Thin or wide? The interpretation of the painting becomes much more narrowly defined.

Using the Red Tree, on the other hand, allows for a broader reading, allows the viewer to see it in whatever terms they desire. It can be their own surrogate in the landscape. Or it can take on the characteristics of someone with meaning for them or someone expressing feelings that they share.

Or it can simply be a tree.

So, while I like being able to give the viewer those choices,I see the trees in my work, as Rouault says, as having the same interest, the same character, the same expression as the figure of a human.

Wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Beauty is the only thing that time cannot harm. Philosophies fall away like sand, creeds follow one another, but what is beautiful is a joy for all seasons, a possession for all eternity.

Oscar Wilde

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This is another new painting, a 24″ by 24″ canvas, slated to be part of my show, Redtree 20: New Growth, at the Principle Gallery, opening June 7.

I call this painting Meet Me in the Garden (At the End of the World). I know that sounds like an ominous title but I loved the way it came off the tongue with a rhythm that feels like it comes from a song. It works for me and I believe it aligns well with the painting and with the words above from Oscar Wilde.

Even though there might be nothing left to us but desolation and wilderness, even though our time here might seem at an end, beauty remains a constant.

It is a reminder of all that is meaningful in this world after everything else is stripped away.

It is our bond with both our humanity and whatever spiritual presence that might exist in the universe. To feel it, to be moved by beauty, is to be in communion with both.

Those who do not recognize or feel beauty, or deny beauty, live only partial lives, like half-filled glasses. I pity those people. They are missing the best part of this life.

Pontificating about something as subjective as beauty might be a lot to put out there before 7 AM and later in the day I may want to change these words in some way. But I believe, for the most part, that the greatest gift we receive as humans is to be emotionally moved by the beauty we witness in the world around us as well in the arts and literature we produce.

This painting reminds me that my time here is limited and being so, what better way should it end than when I am surrounded by the beautiful colors in a garden of flowers?

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“This is the most immediate fruit of exile, of uprooting: the prevalence of the unreal over the real. Everyone dreamed past and future dreams, of slavery and redemption, of improbable paradises, of equally mythical and improbable enemies; cosmic enemies, perverse and subtle, who pervade everything like the air.”

Primo Levi, If This Is a Man / The Truce

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This small painting has been propped up on a bookshelf, unframed, here in the studio for over a decade. I have walked by it thousands of times, to the point that I barely even recognize that it is there. It was from the Outlaws series in 2008 and was one of the pieces that didn’t make it out of the studio. I just didn’t feel as strongly about it as the others in the series at the time, didn’t feel it carried the same emotional messaging.

But the other day I took it from the shelf and spent some time really looking at it and , all these years later, see much more in it now. It has its own story that I didn’t perceive before, maybe because it seems more like the characters from my Exiles series from 1995 than the Outlaws series of 2008. The Exiles were paintings that focused on loss and grief, of a looking back in time at what has been lost. The Outlaws, on the other hand, were about fear and vulnerability, the characters haunted by unseen pursuers.

The character in this painting seems like a hybrid of the two series, a person who has suffered loss and grief and is haunted by all that they have seen.

I originally saw this character as a male figure but looking at it now, I see it as being more female, one with close cropped dark hair, like it has been roughly shorn. I began seeing this as a survivor of atrocity, perhaps of a concentration camp. Someone who has seen horror and can never quite get far away from that memory.

The past for this person is like a ball that is thrown in the air, seemingly moving quickly away only to always coming rushing back down upon them.

The window here represents the past and the figure seems destined to always peer out at it.

It’s funny how the perception of a piece that I have basically ignored for a decade can change with one closer inspection. What seemed like a lesser piece at one point now seems much more powerful, more laden with meaning and emotion.

I think that when I painted this piece I was aiming for something other than what emerged and, as a result, I always viewed it from the perspective of my preconception. Now I am just viewing it as it is.

And my judgement of it is much different. I will never look at it with that indifference that existed for the past ten years. It now has meaning for me. I’ve even gave it a title: Window to the Past.

Glad I took the time to look again.

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While doing a short talk and demonstration for a local arts group last week I mentioned my early work and the fact that it was mainly watercolor based. This surprised some of those in attendance who were not familiar with my early work. I tried to describe my process but thought this blog from several years back might help, at least with the images. Not so much with the words. I still don’t describe this work well. I’ve added a few images from that time.

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GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork6I have been spending a lot of time here in the studio in the last few weeks painting in a more traditional manner, what I call an additive style meaning that layers of paint are continually added , normally building from dark to light. I’ve painted this way for many years but much of my work is painted in a much different manner where a lot of very wet paint is applied to a flat surface. I then take off much of this paint, revealing the lightness of the underlying surface. That’s a very simplified version of the process, one that has evolved and refined over the years, that I, of course, refer to as being reductive.

When you’re self-taught, you can call things whatever you please. I’m thinking of calling my brushes hairsticks from now on. Or maybe twizzlers.

This reductive process is what continually prodded me ahead early on when I was just learning to express myself visually. I went back recently and came across a very early group of these pieces, among the very first where I employed this process. I am still attracted to these pieces, partly because of the nostalgia of seeing those things once again that opened other doors for me. But there was also a unity and continuity in the work that I found very appealing. Each piece, while not very refined or tremendously strong alone, strengthened the group as a whole. I would have been hesitant to show most of these alone but together they feel so much more complete and unified.

This has made me look at these pieces in a different light, one where I found new respect for them. I think they are really symbolic of some of  what I consider strengths in my work, this sense of continuum and relativity from piece to piece. It also brings me back to that early path and makes me consider if I should backtrack and walk that path again, now armed with twenty years of experience. Something to consider.

GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 1 GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 3 GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 5 GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 2 GC Myers 1994 Early ReductiveWork 4

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Have a lot of things to get at this morning so I wasn’t planning on  writing anything. But I came across a painting from an artist unknown to me that I thought I would share. The artist is Todros Geller, a Jewish American printmaker/painter who was born in Ukraine in 1889 and, after immigrating to Canada in 1906, in 1918 moved to Chicago which remained his home until his death in 1949. I don’t know much about Geller but found this painting intriguing along with some of his other works which I urge you to look into.

Strange Worlds, above, is a 1928 painting which depicts an older man, most likely a newspaper vendor under the steps of the elevated rail in Chicago. The composition really pulled me in as did Geller’s treatment of his colors and tones. Just a wonderful piece.

I also found a nice video on this work that better interprets the painting and explains the background and history behind it. I am normally not thrilled with these kinds of interpretative art videos but this was well done and really felt that the information provided here filled out this particular painting nicely. Please take a few minutes to watch and see what you think.

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