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Posts Tagged ‘Painting’

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“Nirvana is right here, in the midst of the turmoil of life. It is the state you find when you are no longer driven to live by compelling desires, fears, and social commitments, when you have found your center of freedom and can act by choice out of that. Voluntary action out of this center is the action of the bodhisattvas — joyful participation in the sorrows of the world. You are not grabbed, because you have released yourself from the grabbers of fear, lust, and duties.” 

 Joseph CampbellThe Power of Myth

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I think about these words from the late mythologist Joseph Campbell quite a lot. It’s one of those bits that I keep close at hand, ready to pull out whenever I find myself feeling the onset of fears or anxieties about things that  I cannot control. Or when I begin to desire things that I don’t need at all. Or whenever I feel pressured to do things purely out of some social obligation.

His words remind me that true freedom lies in finding your own path. Fear, desire and obligation are their own paths and once you begin down those paths, you are further away from your own path of freedom, further from being, as Campbell put it, a joyful participant in the sorrows of the world.

Campbell’s words make it seem so simple yet, as we all know, those other paths are difficult to avoid. We are reactive creatures and often move to follow our first impulse in most situations. Learning to calm our impulses, to still our fears and desires, is the first step down a path of own making.

The painting above, Night Nirvana, a 30″ by 40″ canvas, is from my upcoming West End Gallery show and I attached these words to this piece immediately after it was finished. There’s a great stillness in it and a quiet reassuring voice in it, one that tells me that I control my reactions, that I should follow the path I make for myself. It is a path built on voluntary action, not reaction or fear. A path made with conscious choices, not obligations nor the decisions of others.

The message I take from this painting is simple: Your path is your path alone and there is great peace in knowing that. It is enough for each of us.

I am going to think on that for a while…

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Jackson Pollock -Convergence 1952

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Painting is a state of being…Painting is self discovery.  Every good painter paints what he is.

–Jackson Pollock

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In an article in The Guardian yesterday, there was a review of a current exhibit [July, 2015] at the Tate Liverpool of Jackson Pollock paintings.  Writer Jonathan Jones describes Pollock’s work around 1950, in the period when he was briefly liberated from his chronic alcoholism,  as being the pinnacle of his career. As he put it : Pollock was painting at this moment like his contemporary Charlie Parker played sax, in curling arabesques of liberating improvisation that magically end up making beautiful sense.

GC Myers-Under TextureThat sentence really lit me up, as did the words of Pollock at the top of the page.

In Pollock’s work I see that beautiful sense of which Jones writes. I see order and rhythm, a logic forming from the seemingly chaotic and incomprehensible.

The textures that make up the surfaces of my own paintings are often formed with Pollock’s paintings in mind, curling arabesques in many layers. In fact, one of the themes of my work is that same sense of finding order from chaos.

Or that the grace and beauty of the mark belies the chaos that you perceive. That what you think is chaos is really part of a rhythm that you haven’t quite caught up with yet.

To some observers, however, Pollock’s work represented the very chaos that plagued the world then and now. But true to his words, Pollock’s work was indeed a reflection of what he was– a man seeking grace and sense in a chaotic world.

Painting is, as Pollock says, self discovery and indeed every painter ultimately paints what they are. I know that in the work of painters I personally know I clearly see characteristics of their personality, sometimes of their totality. At least, to the extent that I know them.

I believe that my work also reveals me in this way. It shows everything– strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears. You might think that a painter would be clever enough to show only those positive attributes of his character, like the answers people give when asked to describe their own personality. Nobody ever openly claims to being not too intelligent or paranoid or easily fooled. There are artists that try present themselves other than as they really are but more often than not it comes off as contrivance.

Real painting, real art, is in total revelation, in showing all the complexities and hidden rhythms of our true self and hoping that others see the order and beauty within it.

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This post first ran in 2015 and has been slightly updated.

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“The Solace of Light”- Now at the Principle Gallery

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… I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

-T.S. Eliot, East Coker, The Four Quartets

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Whenever I read this passage from T.S. Eliot, I am inevitably moved by his words. The interesting thing is that while my response is always strong, my my personal interpretation of it, how I relate it to my own experience and knowledge, sometimes varies wildly.

And I suppose that is much like looking at a work of art. The day, the moment, the circumstance and context in which we see it– these things and more often dictate our response and our relationship to art.

I find this true for the painting shown above, The Solace of Light, which hangs at the Principle Gallery now as part of my current show there. It seems as though each time I look deeply at this piece, my relationship with it changes or, at least, moves to a different place within me.

Sometimes it feels superficial as though I am responding solely to the colors. Other times, it is deeper and I feel drawn into the forms of the scene, barely recognizing the colors. I am in and of that place in those instances.

Closer to where I want to be. Or think I want to be.

Okay, off to work. Maybe I will get there today.

 

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Painting is the pattern of one’s own nervous system being projected on canvas.

–Francis Bacon

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Ain’t it the truth?

The words of the late painter Francis Bacon certainly holds true for me, at least in certain times. There were several such days during this past week, if you need an example.

On these days I spent hour after twaddling in paint that directly reflected my own flatness of spirit, my own frustration and confusion. My reaction to the work I was producing was a dull mix of despair and anger. I sensed that it, the work and my reaction, was just a mirroring of my own reaction to the world as I was currently seeing it.

My own nervous system.

I hoped that recognizing this despair and anger would somehow provide a spark of its own. A reaction to my reaction, if you will.

But it was like throwing new colors into the mix with the result being an even more gross and ugly shade of brown and gray. No clarity or sharpness, neither in color nor in thought. The frustration grew even more.

These days reflected the pattern of my own floundering nervous system. I just wished I didn’t bother to project them on canvas.

I sit here this morning and still have the same feelings sparking dully through my synapses, making me both dread and welcome the hours ahead of me here in the studio. The dread is that these feelings will remain and show fully in the paint. The welcoming aspect comes in the hope and possibility that something in the paint– a color, a tone, a contrast– will create new sparks that will push out the dullness and flatness.

Something that will express itself in a new pattern being formed in my nervous system.

It’s this hope and possibility that comes with the beginning of every new day of painting that makes life more than tolerable. It makes it worth living because even on the worst days there is the hope that comes in the next.

I am moving on to to my next day now, filled with hope and possibility.

Hope yours is the same.

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“The Exile’s Wilderness”- Now at the Principle Gallery

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“From the moment that man believes neither in God nor in immortal life, he becomes ‘responsible for everything alive, for everything that, born of suffering, is condemned to suffer from life.’ It is he, and he alone, who must discover law and order. Then the time of exile begins, the endless search for justification, the aimless nostalgia, ‘the most painful, the most heartbreaking question, that of the heart which asks itself: where can I feel at home?”

Albert Camus, The Rebel

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I came across the excerpt above from The Rebel from Albert Camus while searching for something to accompany the painting at the top, The Exile’s Wilderness, which is part of my current exhibit hanging at the Principle Gallery.

This short paragraph stopped me in my tracks and I found myself reading the words and phrasing of it over and over again this morning. It summed up so well the feeling that I take from this painting and that sense of exile, of separateness, that I have often experienced.

The search for justification, the sometimes pointless nostalgia of memory, the feeling of being responsible for everything alive and for setting things in some sort of order– they all feel too familiar.

But it’s that final question that stirred me most: Where can I feel at home?

It is a heartbreaking question. I believe most of us take for granted that feeling of comfort and of being at home. But for the Exile it is an elusive thing, perhaps even an impossibility. In the absence of the real comfort of home they settle for the security found in hiding or in blending in, hiding in plain sight with large and faceless crowds.

That’s the wilderness to which I refer in this painting– a place for the Exile to hide and find security in a world where they may never feel truly at home.

And odd as this may sound, there is great comfort in this. Just having a place where one feels safe and secure is a desirable state of being for most of us because in such an environment we can create and define our own sense of home.

If you think about many of the problems facing us today, most come down to conflicts between people rightly seeking that sense of home, of safety and security, for themselves and those who would deny them that right.

There’s a lot to read into this painting, more than it lets on at first glance. Much like the Exile walking unseen and unnoticed among the crowd.

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The_Torment_of_Saint_Anthony_(Michelangelo)

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A man paints with his brains and not his hands.

-Michaelangelo Buonarroti

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I am a little intimidated in quoting the words of a man who is believed to have painted the piece shown above, The Torment of Saint Anthony, at the tender age of 12 or 13. Pretty amazing. It’s obvious from this, and almost everything created afterward over his lifetime, that Michaelangelo had both brains and hands– the highest degree of craftsmanship along with thought and feeling that brought his work to life.

But his words ring true for any painter. Painting should not be mere craft, not formulaic process nor exact replication of the reality before them. No, it is beyond that. It is how the artist imbues the work with their own thought and emotion, their own spirit, their own essence that elevates the work above craft. It requires a total investment of the self.

Doing that is the trick. At first glance, it seems both a tall task and a simple one. Giving what you think is 100% of yourself seems easy, right? But not holding back something, not sharing every bit of yourself, makes it a Herculean effort. In the end, it comes down to simply feeling emotion in what you are doing and being willing to openly display it without reserve.

Now, maybe I am misinterpreting Michaelangelo’s words to fit my own subjective view of painting. Perhaps in these ten spare words he was speaking about taking a more scientific or mathematical approach to painting and composition. That I don’t know. But when I read it, it made sense to me because the differentiating quality I see in painting, from self-taught rough-hewn outsiders to the highest level of traditional representational painters, is how much of themselves a painter is willing to invest in their creations.

An investment of the self.

It is the thought process of the artist that makes the painting, not the mechanical process.

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This post is from five years back. and is shared again because I love this youthful piece from Michaelangelo along with his words. Whenever I see this painting, or for that matter, anything from Michaelangelo, I am humbled beyond description. And that’s not a bad thing. 

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I call this painting Hunkered Down. It’s about 17″ square on paper and is part of my solo show, Social Distancing, that opens in just over a month on June 5th at the Principle Gallery.

Choosing the title for this piece, or for the show for that matter, was not a difficult task. Hunkered down is the term that most often jumps to mind when I think of this time of keeping socially distant.

The fact that this is the normal form of existence for me made it even easier.

Avoiding people and not having to go anywhere is something I have practiced for decades. I never thought of wearing a mask but like the idea of the vague anonymity it provides. Now that it’s acceptable and required, I might continue to wear one even after this thing someday subsides.

That is, if I ever leave my property again.

That’s a big if.

This piece is a return to my older style in transparent inks, more spare in detail which allows the primary elements, the simple forms of sky and land, to carry the larger part of the emotional load. This lack of detail brings a quietness to the whole that speaks volumes, at least for me.

The first song that came to  mind when I thought of an accompaniment to this painting was an old favorite from Elvis Costello, Almost Blue. There are several versions of the song that I like so I had some choices. I have played a wonderful version that is an absolute favorite from late jazz great Chet Baker here before so I decided to play a nice simple and spare performance of the song by Elvis himself from a 2005 radio broadcast. I also threw in a version that I also like very much from, Diana Krall, who also happens to be his wife.

Have a good Sunday. Be careful out there, okay?

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Art is interested in life at the moment when the ray of power is passing through it.

—Boris Pasternak

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I think Boris Pasternak (author of Doctor Zhivago) is really spot on with with this terse definition of art. Art at its core is, for me, an attempt to affirm our existence and the existence of that life force within us.

I really like that term that Pasternak uses here– ray of power. That description of the force that drives all living things jibes well with that animating force that I try to find in my own work, that indeterminate quality that makes a static thing seem to take on a life of its own.

How and if it comes through in the work is the interesting thing for me. Sometimes, despite my extreme efforts, I cannot find that life force. Maybe I should say I can’t find force this because of my extreme efforts instead of despite. Sometimes it seems as though trying to consciously find that thing prevents it from being found, as though the energy expended in searching creates a cloud that somehow obscures that which is sought.

It often finally appears when I finally let go of the search and don’t focus on finding anything. I just let my mind wander free and lose myself in the process of actually painting– the colors, lines and forms before me.

And suddenly there it is.

It’s as though you don’t find it. It finds you.

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The bit of writing above is from five years ago but I thought I’d share it along with a glimpse at a corner of my studio from this morning. The 18″ wide by 36″ high canvas on the easel was started yesterday and reminded me of this post. It is obviously a work in progress not nearly close to any sort of finish. But even as it was forming in its earliest stages, it was displaying a strong life force.

That is not always the case. Sometimes a piece takes days, going through several frustrating stages where it flattens and has all the life force of a dead fish before finally bursting to life.

Bit in this case, it came together quickly and without a lot of thought or wringing of hands. It just pushed itself onto the canvas. Maybe it is the slashing strokes that make up the sky. There’s a lot of energy in those slashes and the way their colors react to one another.

Maybe this piece will be called Rays of Power?

We’ll see.

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Earlier, I came across this blog post from several years ago that features an older painting of mine at its top. It’s a favorite of mine that hangs in my main painting space, high in a far corner. But even tucked away, it’s one that often has me glimpsing over it or going over to it and standing in front of it to ponder it for a bit. It seemed like an apt companion for this post years ago and still does now. Its simplicity and stillness echo the final line of Berry’s poem perfectly: make a poem that does not disturb the silence from which it came.

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GC Myers- Trio:Three Squares

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I came across this poem from poet/author Wendell Berry on Maria Popova‘s wonderful site, Brain Pickings. It’s a lovely rumination that could apply to any creative endeavor or to simply being a human being.

I particularly identified with the final verse that begins with the line: Accept what comes from silence. I’ve always thought there was great wisdom and power in silence, a source of self-revelation. Perhaps that is why so many of us shun the silence, fearing that it might reveal our true self to be something other than what we see in the mirror. Berry’s words very much sum up how I attempt to tap into silence with my work.

At the bottom is a recording of Wendell Berry reading the poem which gives it even a little more depth, hearing his words in that rural Kentucky voice. It’s fairly short so please take a moment and give a listen.

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HOW TO BE A POET
(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

Wendell Berry

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“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”

― Maya Angelou

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I am back to being angry this morning and badly want to vent.

But I won’t.

Instead, I am going to follow my own request from yesterday’s blogpost that we look past our own instincts for self preservation and try to do something good for others now.

I have to confess that the current crisis has me in my survival mode. As an artist, my business and livelihood is effectively in shutdown as many folks are also in survival mode which means that very few are buying paintings. I expect the income from my work to be cut by anywhere from 50 to 75% for the year unless something dramatic and unforeseen occurs. So, as a result, austerity has become the watchword around here.

I am not whining or complaining. It’s simply a fact that has to be handled. And we will deal with it. In fact, I am exceedingly grateful to be fortunate enough to have a small cushion to protect us, for the most part, for a reasonable period of time into the near future.

It’s those people who were less fortunate before this all started that make me worry most. They were already living on the fringes of survival. They were already experiencing food anxiety, not knowing where their next day or week’s meals were coming from. They were already struggling to meet rising rents and the many costs associated with raising a child. These were the folks who didn’t have $400 in savings to spare should an emergency arise. These were also, most likely, the folks working jobs that paid near the minimum wage and may have very well been laid off during this shutdown. And also most likely had little healthcare.

In normal times, with a smaller percentage of the population experiencing these problems, charitable organizations could pick up a lot of the slack that government assistance misses. But we are talking about a pretty thick slice of the pie now which makes it a problem that affects us all. Food banks around the country are being crushed by the huge demand from people in need.

I know that’s the case in my home area, which is an area that was never on very sturdy economic footing even in the best times over the past 30 or 40 years. In fact, just before the virus hit, this area was determined to be one of only two metropolitan areas in the entire nation to still be in recession.

Our local food bank, Food Bank of the Southern Tier, has been a mainstay for many years now, doing yeoman’s work on the behalf of those in need. They are heroes all the time and in normal times, I try to donate cash to them on a regular basis. However, my own self survival mode has me cutting back on that a bit, unfortunately.

But I still want to help them and about the only way I can right now is by putting a piece of work up for auction to benefit them.

Here’s what I propose:

The painting shown at the top is an 18″ wide by 24″ high painting on canvas from a couple of years ago. It’s not a painting that has been shown much at all. It began it’s life as as a demonstration piece for the annual workshop I lead in Penn Yan. The class that year did a remarkable job with their own pieces while working from this painting. After the workshop, I brought this piece back to the studio and earnestly went to work on it. There was something in it that really spoke to me. It just felt like a prototypical piece for me and when it was done, it meant enough to me that I gave it the title Hero’s Call.

So, I am putting this painting, Hero’s Call, up for auction with all funds going completely to the Food Bank of the Southern Tier. I will pay all shipping costs.

A painting of this size of mine normally is valued at between $2400-2600. My goal for this auction would normally be to get as close to that amount as possible but I know that given the circumstances of these time, that would be a reach. So, I am shooting for getting about half of its value, $1250. That would do a lot of good for my local Food Bank.

The opening bid is set at $200.

The auction ends when a bid of $1250 is received.

You can bid by emailing me at info@gcmyers.com with Hero’s Call on the subject line.

If a bid of  $1250 is not received, the auction will end on Saturday at 12 noon EST. The high bid at that time will receive the painting.

This is your call, your chance to be a hero in a way.  Your winning bid will help a lot of people, perhaps taking away a bit of that anxiety about where their next meal comes from. Plus, you also receive what is, for me, a meaningful piece of art.

I know it’s a lot to ask in these times, but I do ask that you help if possible. If you can’t help me and my local Food Bank, help someone in your own area, even if can only spare a few dollars to your own food bank or similar charity that is being stressed by this moment.

Answer the call. Please.

UPDATE 8:15 AM: The call has been answered. I have received a bid of $1250. I am stunned at how quickly this came to be but am grateful beyond words. This will help a lot of folks in this area.

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