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theodore rousseau-underthebirches1842-43

Theodore Rousseau- Under The Birches 1842



It is better in art to be honest than clever.

–Theodore Rousseau



Theodore Rousseau (1812-1867) was part of the Barbizon school of painters, an art movement in 19th century France that was instrumental in moving away from from the traditional formalism that was prevalent in art up to that point and towards naturalism and artistic expression of emotion. It was very influential on many of the painters who later created the Impressionist movement.

Rousseau and Jean-Francois Millet, best known for his peasant scenes, were the two artists from this school whose work really spoke to me, seeming to have honest emotional content in them. Perhaps that is why his short quote resonated so strongly with me. That and the fact that I have found myself less impressed with cleverness than honest expression through the years. I have always believed that art comes from tapping into the subconscious, something other than the part of our brain that produces conscious thought.

I guess I just don’t think we are that smart. Or clever.

I know I am not.

My work is at its best when it comes from a place of honesty and real emotion, when it is made with more intuition than forethought. When it is too thought out and directed it begins to feel stilted and contrived, losing its naturalness and rhythm and becoming heavy-handed.

That is probably the reason I tell young or beginning painters to focus not so much on the actual idea or subject of a painting but more on things like paint handling and color quality, those things that make up the surface of a painting and convey the real meaning of the painting.

And I think that is what Rousseau was probably getting at in his terse quote.

But maybe not. Like I said, I am not that clever.



This post ran about six years ago and like they say, some things never change. I certainly haven’t gained any cleverness and I still believe that honest emotion is the basis of all impactful art. But what do I know?

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GC Myers- After PartyTurn out the lights, the party’s over
They say that, ‘All good things must end’
Let’s call it a night, the party’s over
And tomorrow starts the same old thing again

–Willie Nelson, The Party’s Over



 

This is a new small painting that is going to be part of my annual solo show at the Principle Gallery in  Alexandria, VA. This year’s show is called Between Here and There and opens Friday, June 4th.

This might be an odd choice to be the first piece shown from this year’s show. It’s called After Party and is one of those pieces I often do mainly for myself. Actually, most of the work I do is for myself first.

But this and others like it might be even more so. They just really satisfy some need inside of me, something that wants to come out.

Plus, they usually make me smile or sigh. I know that this one did both.

I am not going to get into what I see in this for myself. I would rather you have your own interpretation on this one.

I will say that I immediately thought of the old Willie Nelson song, The Party’s Over, that he wrote way back in the 1950’s. A lot of us remember Dandy Don Meredith wailing it during the early years of Monday Night Football ( with Howard Cosell) when the game’s results seemed inevitable. I have been listening to a remake of this old classic as done by the Atlanta-based group Manchester Orchestra. They employ the basic structure and chorus of the song but add a bit to the song. Some may not like the idea of toying with another’s song but I think it works well here and I kind of like it for this painting.

Give a listen, if you like.



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GC Myers- Rest Stop sm

“Rest Stop” – Currently at the West End Gallery



A man must find time for himself. Time is what we spend our lives with. If we are not careful we find others spending it for us. . . . It is necessary now and then for a man to go away by himself and experience loneliness; to sit on a rock in the forest and to ask of himself, ‘Who am I, and where have I been, and where am I going?’ . . . If one is not careful, one allows diversions to take up one’s time—the stuff of life

― Carl Sandburg



This painting, Rest Stop, which is at the West End Gallery in Corning, is a favorite of mine. It might be in the colors or textures, those elements that often reach out to me, but it’s more likely because it’s message speaks clearly to me.

We all need to periodically stop the busyness of our lives, if only for a few moments. A short spell to pause everything and appreciate where we are in the present, to ponder how we came to be there, and to imagine where the future will take us.

An interlude to see how the past, present and future exist within us.

That’s the message I get from this painting. Now, doing such a thing is another animal altogether. For many of us, just stopping everything seems an impossibility. Or many may think such a thing is simple foolishness with no real purpose. Or some might feel that the prospect of actually thinking about anything, especially anything to do with their own life, is too tall a task.

But for some of us, these moments of ponderance are a necessity. They simply make life bearable. They create reason and meaning in a world that often seems to lack both. Those are the moments that define purpose at times when we need to know there is indeed purpose.

I get all of this with a glance at this painting. And I think that’s why I place so much stock in this piece– it speaks volumes with a so little effort. That’s the opposite of my writing or any form of expression with words.

Even this short re-examination of this painting is a form of pausing, of reflecting on what is now, what was then and what will will be. And maybe that’s the purpose of this piece and of art, in general.

Got to think about that…

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GC Myers- Far Away Eyes



Seems like a recurring theme lately with me starting most posts by saying that I am busy and eager to get to work. That’s actually a good thing for me. That eagerness to get to it is something that is not just there. It is cultivated, a result of previous actions. It usually means I am doing the right things (at least, for me) in my creative process.

So, while I wish I were willing to spend more time writing this morning’s post I am glad to want to get to my work.

But I wanted to share the painting above, Far Away Eyes, that is currently at the West End Gallery. I wrote about this piece last July and rereading that post reminded me of the struggle that I had with it. It was one of the first pieces I worked on during the early days of the pandemic. I had no momentum, no energy, little inspiration nor any eagerness to be at work. My mind was wholly distracted.

This piece though fought with me and made me work. Made me shut out the outer world for a time so that I could focus my mind on it, to become part of it.

To put it plainly, it didn’t come easy. That’s probably why this piece resonates so strongly with me. I think we all appreciate those things that make us struggle, that make us be at our best. We might be frustrated and demoralized during the battle but the result, the overcoming, makes us forget that. I know that the struggle in this piece had slipped my mind until I read the post that was written soon after this painting was completed, when the battle was still fresh in mind.

I now appreciate it for what it is, the force it possesses and not for what it provided in its creation.

As it should be.

The title for this song  was borrowed from an old Rolling Stones song from their 1978 Some Girls album. I didn’t mention it in the original post about the painting because I didn’t think the song itself fully lined up with the piece but its title did. But now, I’m not so sure.

Give a listen and you decide.



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Lola



Had a really good day of painting yesterday and am eager to get back to the easel this morning. I made some changes in my process, altering how and where how I begin painting on a new piece. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but for me, a small alteration like this changes everything about how the painting proceeds. Where it ends up.

In this case, the changes seem as though they unleashed the momentum I have been futilely seeking. Feel like I am close to falling into that deep groove again where the momentum gained from one piece carries you deep into the next. It creates an immersive environment for me, one where ideas and concepts are forming instantaneously, cracking and popping like fireworks inside me.

It’s a good feeling, one on which my creative life depends. And one that I assume will always return even when I am going through periods of inactivity or frustrating and distracted efforts. So far, I have been fortunate and it has returned every time I fully devote my time, effort and focus.

So, this morning excuse me for being short but I know that this feeling can retreat as quickly as it shows up.

I need to get to work. Now.

For this Sunday Morning Music, here’s a classic from The Kinks that was always part of the soundtrack of my life, from the time it was first released in 1970 until now. It’s Lola. The video below features is a new comic book telling of this song and its wonderfully ambiguous wordplay. 

Okay, go to run. This feeling won’t last forever. Enjoy.



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Every time I start a picture… I feel the same fear, the same self-doubts… and I have only one source on which I can draw, because it comes from within me.

–Federico Fellini



I know that Fellini was talking about starting a film production in the quote above but it translates pretty neatly to the beginning of almost every painting for me.

There is always some level of self-doubt involved. I find myself doubting my abilities, my imagination, my drive, my vision, and even the quality of my paint or the amount of light in my studio, among a hundred other things.

Anything that gives me some sort of reason me to not do what I know I need to do.

And like Fellini points out, the only answer to this doubt is within myself. I can look to other creators and see how they have overcome their own doubts but, like so many things in art, every artist has a truly unique set of circumstances. The only thing all have in common is the desire and need to create, to express their vision and voice.

So, you learn to trust that desire and need. Trust that you are good enough. Trust that what you will do next will move you closer to realizing that vision and voice. Trust that there is real emotion and feeling behind what you are attempting.

That last one is a big one for me.

I have found that when I put concept before feeling, my attempts most often fail miserably.  By that I mean if I start a painting with a strong visual idea in mind but one that is not formed in emotion or doesn’t have some real personal feeling attached to it, sometimes it fails to take on real life. It might carry out the concept but it just lies there like a dead fish.

I have some of those dead fish here in the studio. I look at them and remember the original idea that I had when I first embarked on them. I also remember the feeling of deflation when I realized that I had no emotional attachment to them, sometimes early in the process. Things just don;t come together in the way I thought they might. There is flatness and shallow where I saw richness and depth in my mind.

Dead fish.

However, there is a caveat. Sometimes, when starting on a concept piece, things fall into place and momentum and feeling build. Attributes that were not seen in the original thought process appear and those I hoped for emerge stronger and more vibrant than envisioned.

The excitement of creation transforms into real feeling and the fish that looked like it might be dead begins to come to life on the surface of the painting. 

The feeling of seeing your work come to life, or at least the prospect of it, might be enough to overcome that initial doubt for me.  The words and advice from other artists might offer comfort but my own need to do what I do and to experience that thrill of creation are what get me past the hesitancy and dreadful doubt I face each time I stand before my easel or painting table. 

Okay, got to go. There are dead fish waiting for me. I think I might be able to put a little life in them if I just can get started.

Have a good day.

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“Exile on Main Street”- At the Principle Gallery



When you’re drunk in the alley, baby with your clothes all torn
When your late night friends leave you in the cold gray dawn
Whoa I just seen so many flies on you
I just can’t brush ’em off

The angels beating all their wings in time
Smiles on their faces and a gleam right in their eyes
Whoa, thought I heard one sigh for you
Come on up now
Come on up now
Come on up now

May the good Lord shine a light on you
Yeah, make every song you sing your favorite tune
May the good Lord shine a light on you
Yeah, warm like the evening sun, ah-nah-nah yeah

— Mick Jagger/Keith Richards, Shine a Light



I am in the beginning phases of my preparation for my annual shows at the galleries that represent my work. This is always a difficult period, trying to find a thread to grasp and follow. You never know where it will lead and what sort of work it will produce. That uncertainty is agonizing for me. Because so much of my livelihood depends on how these shows shake out, deciding what form the work will take is a big move.

I don’t gamble anymore but in some ways, it’s like placing a large bet. I am betting that my choice in moving ahead and the work it will produce will provide the income I need to live and will allow me to maintain my status as an artist deserving of future shows in the galleries that represent me. This decision puts a knot in my gut every year at this time. That awful feeling is the reason I don’t gamble anymore. This is the only bet I am willing to make now.

Getting to that point where I have decided what direction the work will follow is not really a process at all. It’s more like panicked examination of past work and new influences, trying to find something that grabs me, holds my limited focus and can perhaps inspire me. It can be maddening at times but it’s sometimes fun to roll back through the work from the past, to see what clicks as strongly now as it did then. There seems to always be something in doing this that reminds me of things, traits in my work, that I have put aside and no longer employ in my current work. That sometimes leads to revisiting those traits. Sometimes the results are enlightening, making me want to make it part of my process again, and sometimes I discover that the things I was doing then just don’t translate to the current moment.

That’s where I am. Seeking. Looking for a light that shines.

That brings me to today’s title.

While going through some past work, I noticed that one of my favorite pieces from the past year, Exile on Main Street, was still at the Principle Gallery. It was one of the cityscapes that were part of my annual show there, last year’s show being titled Social Distancing. I loved doing this work as well as the resulting pieces. This, as I said, was a favorite from that group. There is warmth and distance, Quiet and tension. Things I tend to see and look for  in my better works.

Naming it, I borrowed the title from the classic 1972 Rolling Stones album, Exile on Main Street. I thought a favorite song of mine from that album would fit my current process– Shine a Light. It’s credits list Mick Jagger and Keith Richards from 1972 as the songwriters but it was actually a collaboration with the late Leon Russell that came from 1968.

The song’s title was then (Can’t Seem) To Get a Line on You and dealt with the problems caused by the drug addiction of Stones’ guitarist Brian Jones. It was recorded as such for inclusion in a 1970 Leon Russell album but not released until the 1990’s. The Russell version (which included the Rolling Stones) is very similar and strong but the version from Exile on Main Street is more formed, more powerful.

I thought the song fit my process and also added a little more to the painting this morning. Give a listen and have a good day.



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The past slips from our grasp. It leaves us only scattered things. The bond that united them eludes us. Our imagination usually fills in the void by making use of preconceived theories…Archaeology, then, does not supply us with certitudes, but rather with vague hypotheses. And in the shade of these hypotheses some artists are content to dream, considering them less as scientific facts than as sources of inspiration.

-Igor Stravinsky, Poetics of Music in the Form – Six Lessons



I was looking through some older posts and came across the quote and painting above which caught my eye. It was probably because the painting, Archaeology: The Golden Age, was the last piece I had painted in the Archaeology series and may well be the last of that series.

It is one of those pieces that still live with me here in the studio, having never found a home. While I want it to find a place where it can satisfy someone other than myself, I am happy to have it here. From the time it was completed, I considered it one of the stronger pieces in the series. That might even be the reason it has continued to be the last in the Archaeology series.

Maybe the series had reached its potential, its endpoint, with this painting. I don’t know.

I also was captured once again by Stravinsky’s thoughts on the artistic process, how we use our imagination and what little knowledge we have to fill out the blank spots among our scattered fragments of memory to create something new. He equated it to archaeology which is a similar process, taking bits and pieces from the past and filling in the blanks with imagination and knowledge to create a theory of what might have been. 

As he says archaeology does not supply us with certitudes. There are too many voids to fill before one can deal in absolutes.

And so it is with art. Art seldom deals in strict factual representation. Art comes together as a mixture of the facts of the work, the imagination and process of the artist, and the emotions and imagination of those who take it in. 

It’s as much alchemy as it is archaeology.

Whatever it is, I am happy to deal in this strange world of imagination, one that often offers me more questions than answers.

Reading the older post this morning also reminded me of an old Jethro Tull tune that I haven’t heard or thought of in many years. Probably decades. Here’s a blast from the past, as the old AM deejays used to say. This is Living in the Past.

Have a good day.



 

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“Keep Your Distance’– Now at the Principle Gallery, Alexandria, VA



If I cross your path again,
Who knows where,
Who knows when
On some morning without number,
On some highway without end
Don’t grasp my hand and say
“Fate has brought you here today”
Oh fate is only fooling with us, friend

–Richard Thompson, Keep Your Distance



Yesterday was a good day in that the first covid-19 vaccine hit the streets. A glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel, but we still got some distance to cover before we get out of it. It is important that we don’t relax and begin to think that the answer is here , that we’re all suddenly safe. It will be months, possibly 6 or 8 months, before the vaccine has hit enough people to begin to think we’re in the clear.

And in that time there is still peril. So, we must keep doing whatever we can to mitigate the risk. And that mainly comes from wearing masks and keeping your distance. It may not be convenient or to our liking but it’s not too much to ask, in the big scheme of things. Let’s do it for a little longer and not drop our guard when the end may be in sight.

In this spirit, I thought I would revisit a painting is currently at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. I first showed it here the morning after I completed it, on the day March when the reality of the pandemic hit and everything began to shut down. Not more than an hour or two after I ran a blog entry about this painting, I visited my dad for what would end up being the final time before his nursing facility shut down. 

The painting is called Keep Your Distance and is an homage of sorts to my earlier work, especially that from around 1997 to 2001. It was in that timeframe that the Red Tree first emerged and my compositions often revolved around a solid block of color dominating the foreground separated by a thin line of unpainted surface  from a large sky. It is a simple composition that whose depth and emotion is modulated within its color, texture, and the subtle positioning and interrelationship of its forms.

Sometimes, it is the simplest compositions that I believe display the truest emotions and the greatest depths. But it takes emotional commitment to instilling those things within few forms that make up a simple composition. Even the seemingly empty parts of the composition have to carry some emotional value.

In other words, simple ain’t always so simple.

And I think that is what I like so much about this piece. It speaks reams of meaning to me without hiding it behind excess detail. It wants to be read, to be heard, to pass on whatever individual message it holds for the viewer. 

I named it Keep Your Distance. We were just learning the intimate details of the virus and the idea of social distancing was taking hold. This piece had a feeling of distance and isolation within it so it felt right. Actually, it’s a title that I may have used without the events of the time.

The title comes from a favorite Richard Thompson song of the same name. I have played that song here several times over the years but I thought today I’d play a cover I hadn’t heard until this morning. It’s from country artist Patty Loveless. Though traditional country music is in my wheelhouse, I  am not a huge modern country music fan. But I have a lot of respect for Patty Loveless.

I saw her perform back January of 2002 at Radio City Music Hall when she was part of the Down From the Mountain tour that came out of the film O Brother Where Art Thou? It was just months after the attacks of 9/11, another time of crisis in this country, and I remember how strangely quiet the city was at that time. Traffic was light and car horns were almost nonexistent. It felt like a bizarro world version of NYC. I remember having the doorman at the hotel sincerely thanking us for staying there as it was pretty lightly occupied.

But it was a great show and Patty Loveless did herself proud. Around that time, she had released an album called Mountain Soul that was a return to her traditional mountain music roots which melded well with the rest of the artists on that bill. I came away really impressed with her voice and her stage presence. So, I was pleased when I came across this version of a favorite song. It’s a little more countrified than the original but, like all great songs, it works in many genres.

Give a listen and have a great day. But remember to keep your distance, okay?



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“I rejoice in the knowledge of my biological uniqueness and my biological antiquity and my biological kinship with all other life forms. This knowledge roots me, allows me to feel at home in the natural world, to feel that I have my own sense of biological meaning, whatever my role in the cultural, human world.”

― Oliver Sacks, The River of Consciousness



This painting shown here, The Kinship, is headed out to the West End Gallery this weekend along with several new smaller pieces. I generally try to get some small work out there this time of year and I thought I’d include this piece .

This painting is a couple of years old and has been a favorite of mine since it was painted. It has wonderful quiet and harmony along with a visual pop that appeals to my eye. But more than that, it never fails to set my mind to wondering about things as I attempt to interpret the elements of this image.

Is it the kinship associated with family and ancestry? The family tree is obvious here. Maybe the Red Chair sees its familial connection to the past in the form of the Red Tree?

Or is it a molecular kinship with all things in this world and universe? The sort that finds us wondering if the atoms and molecules which make us up were once part of a star that once lit the night sky, a great tree that loomed in the ancient forests or a mighty river running from high in the mountains down to the sea. Or perhaps a simple pile of manure? Or were they once part of all these things and more?

Or is it a spiritual kinship with all living things? The kinship of survival and struggle. We all — animals, insects and plants–respond to our will to live. We all seek food and water and the warmth of another.

And light.

The interesting thing abut this piece for me is that I seldom see it in the same way. It depends on the day and my own state of mind at the moment. This morning it struck me with what I would call its primary interpretation, that of family and ancestry. The relationship between the wooden chair and the living tree sticks out this morning, makes me think of my own relationship with the trees in the forest around my home and studio.

I wonder if the comfort I have always felt in the woods stemmed from the relationship my ancestors had with the forests of their times? Many of my ancestors were loggers and lumbermen, spending most of their lives toiling in the woods of the Adirondacks or northern Pennsylvania. Some had died in those woods, killed by falling trees or in log flumes. I often think of those folks when I am walking through the woods so the idea of that sort of kinship makes sense.

Well, whatever the case, this piece has once more made me think this morning. And that’s all I can ask of it.

Think about your own connections, your own kinships today. And have a good day.

 

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