Posts Tagged ‘Paul Strand’

GC Myers Life Forms ca 2004I spent yesterday working on a piece that was based on the photo from yesterday’s blogpost, one from Paul Strand that featured tiny figures on a sidewalk in a park.  I had translated the composition immediately and could see what I wanted in my head but just could not get it to translate on paper.  It was frustrating and had me flummoxed for most of the afternoon.  I just could not get to the image in my mind, could not achieve the depth and feel that I was seeing.

I wanted to taste a hearty stew  but was only getting weak broth.

I think that it came down to the fact that I had not completely absorbed the composition, had not fully made the transition from the original inspiration to a point where it became my own.  Like learning a piece of music where you are trying to discover the flow and rhythm of it, trying to see the pattern laid down by the original composer before you impose your own interpretation on it.  Making their notes your notes.

This is normally not a a problem for me.  The way I paint allows immediate transition into my own hand normally.  But sometimes when I try to force my work into a pattern that is not mine and is not fully hashed out, the results are less than stellar.


The piece at the top is not an example of this.  Rather, this is a the opposite, even though it may not resemble my normal work.  From 8 or 9 years ago, this  started as an exercise where I was just getting back to colors that I strayed from had , each little sliver being combinations of color.  Slowly,  it evolved into this fish-like swirl.  I find myself drawn into the pattern and movement of this and it works for me because it feels pure, feels as though it is my own rhythm and flow even though it doesn’t resemble my typical work.

I don’t know how to put this coherently.  It just feels natural, like writing your own signature.  I’ve down a couple of these over the years and they are among my favorites, probably because of this.  When I compare the easiness and grace of this piece to yesterday’s effort, there is a world of difference.  In this piece I am signing my own name whereas yesterday I was trying to forge a signature.  But if I can ever get to that image in my mind that changes and my signature begins to appear.

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paul strand ny 1916No matter what lens you use, no matter what speed the film, no matter how you develop it, no matter how you print it, you cannot say more than you can see.

–Paul Strand


I have featured the photography of Paul Strand here before, writing about his groundbreaking work in the early decades of the 20th century.  There is something about his work and his eye that is unmistakable, something that jumps from the surface.  When I saw this photo of a park in NY, here on the right, I knew immediately that it was Strand’s work.

I love this image, with the abstraction of the forms with the sidewalk forming a flowing diagonal through the picture plane.  The single figure in the lower third of the photo, cutting across the park in full stride,  becomes the focus for me, the soul of the picture.  He becomes the singular voice in a busy anonymous world.

Paul-Strand-The-Court-New-York-1924I think  the way in which he applies abstraction to the common forms in his work is wonderful and inspiring as an artist, something too many of us forget in our own work.  We become too concerned with simply capturing subject and not the emotion created in how that subject fits into its environment.  His best work speaks purely of emotion to me and he was able to find it everywhere.  As he said:  The artist’s world is limitless. It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always on his doorstep.

I think those are words to live by for any artist.

Paul Strand Abstraction Connecticut 1916


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166_1934_CCI find it hard to believe that I haven’t mentioned the work of Charles Sheeler here, outside of a mention of his collaboration with Paul Strand on the film Manhatta, a landmark American art film from 1921.  Sheeler (1883-1965)  is one of my favorite artists who as  a pioneer in photography and painting in the early decades of the 20th century is often called the father of Modernism.  Oddly enough, I am particularly drawn to his industrial imagery which replaces almost all evidence of things natural in completely man-made factoryscapes.  This  might seem to be the antithesis of my own work,  which often omits all evidence of human intervention in my landscapes.

Charles Sheeler River Rouge PlantSome of his most potent work came from an assignment where Henry Ford hired Sheeler to photograph his factories, wanting him to glorify them in an almost religious manner, as though they were cathedrals for the new age.  As Ford had said at the time, “The man who builds a factory builds a temple. The man who works there, worships there.”  Sheeler was impressed with the factory complexes and felt that, indeed, they represented a modern form of religious expression.  His painted work from this time glorified the machine of industry in glowing forms and color.

Charles Sheeler Shaker BarnHe saw the factory as a continuation of the American idea of work as religion, one that was rooted in the sense of  reverence and importance of the barns and structures of the farms of the earlier pre-industrial age.  He   painted many scenes of farms and barns, abstracting the forms as he had with the factory scenes.

Charles Sheeler Classic LandscapeI don’t know that I completely agree with Sheeler on his idea of the factory as cathedral but I do have to admit to being awestruck in the presence of large factory structures.  I remember working in the old A&P factory, a huge building that was said to have the capability to produce enough product each day to feed everyone east of the Mississippi.  It no longer exists.  Some of the huge rooms in the building were amazing to stand in, as the machines hummed and throbbed while workers hustled about servicing their needs.  I particularly remember the tea room which was a huge ca cavernous space with row after row of steampunk  looking machines that bagged the tea then sewed it shut.  I cleaned these machines for several weeks and, standing in the grand space in silence after most of the workers had gone and the machines turned off, felt that feeling of awe.   I would sometime walk around from area to area, just taking it in.  I didn’t necessarily adore it in the manner of a religious zealot but there was no denying the  power in its magnitude and the power of the machine.

Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to Sheeler.  Maybe its his use of form and color.  I don’t know.  I guess it doesn’t really matter.  I just like his work. Period.

Charles Sheeler Conversation Sky and Earth

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I thought I had mentioned the work of photographer Paul Strand here before but can’t seem to locate it.   Strand lived from 1890 until 1976 and was part of the Modernist era of the early 2oth century, using his camera to capture the urban landscape’s abstracted forms in a way that no photographer had to that time.  The image shown here, Wall Street, is perhaps one of his most famous.

His portraiture is also quite striking.  Doing a Google image search, the page is immediately filled with multiple fairly closely cropped images of  faces in black and white.  They’re shot in a way that might make you think it would be difficult to discern any particular photographer’s eye but seeing them altogether shows clearly how he saw his subjects and show the continuity in his work.  Strand was a student of the great Lewis Hine and carried on Hine’s use of the camera as a tool for social reform.  His photos of the inhabitants of the city streets are powerful and gritty.

One of his projects was a film, Manhatta,  with the great Modernist painter/photographer Charles Sheeler, another of my favorites.  It is a really interesting view of the bustling, swelling city from 1921 taken from Strand’s and Sheeler’s unique perspectives.  Just great imagery.

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