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Posts Tagged ‘Quotes’

Vincent Van Gogh- Memory of the Garden at Etten 1888

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My aim in life is to make pictures and drawings, as many and as well as I can; then, at the end of my life… looking back with love and tender regret, and thinking, ‘Oh, the pictures I might have made!’ But this does not exclude making what is possible…

–Vincent Van Gogh

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Love this painting from Vincent Van Gogh with its wonderful color and the abstraction of the forms that comes from eliminating the horizon line. It was a piece that came to mind when I ran across this passage from Van Gogh. The words reminded me of something else, a thought that has been on my mind in recent times.

I was asked at my Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery this past September if I ever had thoughts of retiring from my painting career. I think I made a bit of a joke about it, saying that I would no doubt die working away at a painting.

And that’s most likely true. I couldn’t imagine ever saying I am done as a painter.

It goes back to Van Gogh’s words above. I still see my artistic future brighter than my past, still envision important projects and better works to come. I still see my best work as being in the future, not dwelling in the distant past.

I can’t imagine that feeling ever changing. I can see myself on the day of my death, if I am capable of taking a moment to reflect on that day, will have that same regret that Van Gogh expressed: Oh, the pictures I might have made!

That being said, I must get to work. I am not retired yet and there are pictures to be made. The future is calling.

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GC Myers  1994 Early Work Illustrative Styling

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To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.

~Henri Bergson

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If you have read this blog for some time, you probably have noticed that I periodically like to revisit old work, especially those early pieces from when I was still in the process of finding voice. It’s an interesting period for me to look at because the changes were coming fast, sometimes on what seemed to be a daily basis, as new things were tried, some sparking new directions and some being quickly set aside.

It was a much different set of circumstances than the way I currently work. It was a period of fast and furious fireworks, little pops and crackles with every step forward where today it is quieter for periods of time followed by louder booms. I don’t know if I can explain that any better and am pretty sure it means nothing to anyone but that is the nature of this whole endeavor– trying to make sense of something inexplicable.

I was looking at some early pieces and stopped on this one at the top for a bit, looking at it closely for the first time in many years. It’s from around 1994 and was at a point where I was still trying to figure out things. It was very illustrative– I could see it being used in a kid’s book– but there were things I took from it. The treatment of the sky, for instance, presaged the way my process evolved. It’s a pleasant little piece but it is far from where I wanted to be and even back then I knew it when I finished it then set it aside. It was not an emotional carrier for me at the time and that was what I was seeking.

The piece below, Into the Valley, was from around six or seven months later, in early 1995, and shows the changes that were taking hold in my work.  It is simpler in construction yet seems to say more for me, seems to have some more fundamental thought and feeling in it. GC Myers Into the Valley 1995

I usually take something from these little visits back in time. The changes become more evident as the style matures then levels off, becoming a bit more subtle, less drastic but more confident. But always changing, always recreating itself as it matures.

Or so I hope…

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Wassily Kandinsky- Couple Riding 1906

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The true work of art is born from the Artist: a mysterious, enigmatic, and mystical creation. It detaches itself from him, it acquires an autonomous life, becomes a personality, an independent subject, animated with a spiritual breath, the living subject of a real existence of being.

–Wassily Kandinsky

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Leave it to the great Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) to so well describe that sense of life I am looking for in my work and about which I have often written here. When it is real, it takes on a life of its own. It still possesses the personality and psyche of the artist but grows, adding layers and dimensions that take it well beyond the reality of the artist.

These two sentences from Kandinsky hit the mark squarely — animated with a spiritual breath, the living subject of a real existence of being–and are just perfect for how I see this process.

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“I’ve spent a good part of my life painting trees. Naturally I’ve gotten pretty well acquainted with them. Excellent friends they are and, for me, the most fascinating ‘sitters’. Trees are a lot like human beings; rooted men, possessing character, ambitions and idiosyncrasies. Those who know trees see all their whims; see their struggles too; struggles with wind and weather; struggles to adjust themselves to their society. For nature will not allow them to run amuck, heedless of their neighbors; their individual propensities must conform to the cosmic laws within their own democracy. Thus there is a certain rhythm in a wood; a flow between parts, a give and take that is rigidly observed.”

–John F. Carlson, American Artist interview, 1942

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To the artist, the forest is an asylum of peace and dancing shadows.

-John F. Carlson (1875-1947)

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You may not know his name, but the Swedish born American painter John F. Carlson had a big influence on generations of modern realist painters. He wrote a book on landscape painting in 1928 that is still well regarded today and his work is included in the collections of most major museums. You probably see echoes of his work in painters you see working today.

Beyond that, I like, and agree with, his thoughts on trees and forests, those places where I spend much of my days.

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“No one, it seems to me, can really paint trees without being extremely sensitive to their rhythm and all that is going on in the woods, without indeed having considerably more than a casual acquaintance with sylvan society.”– John F. Carlson

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Take a look for yourself.

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Below is a post from about five years back that very much speaks to the role of anxiety in the work of many artists, myself among them.

Henry Moore Sculpture*****************************

It is a mistake for a sculptor or a painter to speak or write very often about his job. It releases tension needed for his work.

Henry Moore

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Came across this quote from the great British sculptor Henry Moore and it struck me on two accounts, both in the words about an artist talking too much about his job and the other in the need for tension. I am aware and worry about both things quite often.

Talking and writing about my work has been a normal thing for me for many years now and, on one hand, I think it has helped me express myself in many ways. The writing and speaking acts as a confessional in which I can air out my anxieties and that, in itself, often reveals new insights that send me in new directions. But on the other hand, I have often feared that my willingness to be transparent will detract from my work in some way. In times when I am less than confident, I fear that my words will somehow expose me as a fraud or, at least, point out the more obvious flaws in my character or deficiencies as an artist.

Even as I write this, I am questioning the very act of doing so.

But I do it. And will probably continue to do so. It’s become part of who I am at this point, even on those days when I find myself questioning what I am or the wisdom in writing or speaking about it.

As for tension being needed for the work, that is something I have believed for a long time. Tension pushes me, makes me stretch forward out of my comfort zone. Tension has been the igniter for every personal breakthrough in my work, creating an absolute need to find new imagery or new ways to use materials.

There are times when I feel that I have become too comfortable in the materials and processes that I use and that people have become too accustomed to seeing my work. I feel stagnant, stalled at a plateau. It is in these times when tension, even fear, begins to build in me and I begin to scan in all directions for a new way of seeing or a new material in which to work.

The tension becomes a burning need to prove myself.

This tension is not a comfortable thing. But I know it is a necessary condition in order for my work to continue to grow, which is what I want and need. To the casual observer it would seem to be a good thing as an artist to reach a point where you are comfortable and satisfied in what you are doing.

I can see that.

But when that tension is absent my drive to express, to create, is stifled. My work dulls and becomes somewhat hollow. Fortunately, seeing this in my work sets off some sort of alarm and I begin to worry. And the tension begins to build once more.

And both comfort and satisfaction are gone.

And I am happily alone with my anxiety.

Odd as it may seem, I see that anxiety as a path forward or an open door to be found. It ultimately reveals something.

And if so, I will no doubt be here, for better or worse, writing about it.

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“A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.”

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)

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Days are strange now as once hidden secrets come out into clearer sight. They will become even stranger.

With a sense of strangeness in the air, it’s a good day to just look at a few photos from the late photographer Diane Arbus to try to draw out the secrets hidden in them. How we look at her photos of the marginalized folks among us probably speaks more to our own secrets than it does about those of her subjects.

For what it’s worth, I think the photo of the kid, at the bottom of the page here, speaks volumes in representing how many of us are feeling.

I am that kid.

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John Sloan- The Wake of the Ferry I 1907

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You can be a giant among artists without ever attaining any great skill. Facility is a dangerous thing. When there is too much technical ease the brain stops criticizing. Don’t let the hand fall into a smart way of putting the mind to sleep.

John Sloan

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I am a fan many of the Ashcan painters of the early 20th century, such as John Sloan, 1871-1951, whose work is shown here. The painters in this group obviously had technical prowess but you get the feeling from their work that they often operated in that danger zone outside their facilities, relying as much on instinct in the moment as their skill to create their paintings.

As Sloan points out, technical ability is a wonderful thing but also dangerous  for the artist. I love his description of the hand’s ability putting the mind to sleep.

I know that feeling.

I often feel my best work comes from not knowing exactly how the work is going to proceed or where it will end. That sense of danger, that nervous feeling the painting is in peril of becoming included in the next garbage pickup, is a great indicator for me that my instincts are engaged., that my brain is not in the off position.

This is when good things happen, when breakthroughs are achieved, where the work moves beyond you and becomes something of its own.

But it’s all too easy to fall under the spell of your ability, to let your mind doze while your hand takes over.  But obtaining that ability takes years of work and is actually a goal. Why wouldn’t you let this gained knowledge carry your work? That’s a great question and I think every artist has to look at it on their own terms.

I look at this gained ability as tool that I have learned to use. Now, even though I know how to use this tool in a normal, predictable manner, sometimes I need to use it in way for it wasn’t intended. That’s not always the safe way to go but sometimes you find a new way.

And that’s a good thing.

John Sloan- Travelling Carnival, Santa Fe

John Sloan- The Wake of the Ferry II 1907

John Sloan- The City From Greenwich Village

John Sloan- Hairdresser’s Window 1907

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