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Posts Tagged ‘Red Chair’

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“I told myself: ‘I am surrounded by unknown things.’ I imagined man without ears, suspecting the existence of sound as we suspect so many hidden mysteries, man noting acoustic phenomena whose nature and provenance he cannot determine. And I grew afraid of everything around me – afraid of the air, afraid of the night. From the moment we can know almost nothing, and from the moment that everything is limitless, what remains? Does emptiness actually not exist? What does exist in this apparent emptiness?”

Guy de Maupassant, The Horla

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This is another new piece, a smaller painting on paper that is part of my Social Distancing show that opens June 5 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. I am calling this piece The Emptiness.

The title is taken from The Horla, one of the last short stories written by Guy de Maupassant, the 19th century French master of the short story. It’s a tale of horror about an alien being — an invisible organism, actually– called the Horla that comes to earth with the intention of subjugating the human race. This unseen invader has the power to enter and sway the minds of its victims. The narrator of the story describes his emotions, the vast emptiness that overtakes him, as he realizes what is happening and his powerlessness in the face of the threat.

A few years later, tragically, de Maupassant tried to commit suicide by slitting his own throat but survived, dying in a sanitarium a year later, in 1893 at the age of 42. Apparently, the emptiness of the story’s narrator was very much the same emptiness as that of  the writer.

I thought this painting would fit well into this particular show, which is concerned with social isolation, from that which has been caused by the pandemic to all other forms of isolation. For some, isolation can bring solitude. For others, it brings the emptiness that de Maupassant described.

This painting leans toward that form of isolation. Maybe it’s the bilious green of the interior walls or the spare details of the room. Or the looming moon seen through the window, a large alien eye always there, always watching.

It feels like an unusual piece for me, even though it fits neatly into my body of work. It feels complete and there’s a pleasant, even comfortable, feel to it. But it’s an uneasy comfort, maybe like that experienced by those whose minds have unknowingly been infected by the Horla.

Or maybe it’s the uneasiness that comes with the normalization and acceptance, by a lot of people, of behavior that was once considered repulsive by the majority of us. It feels like the same kind of infection of the mind is taking place. Watching this take place now must surely be like the experience of the narrator watching the Horla affect those around him.

It certainly creates its own emptiness.

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Perhaps I am doomed to retrace my steps under the illusion that I am exploring, doomed to try and learn what I should simply recognize, learning a mere fraction of what I have forgotten.

Andre Breton

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I was looking at this painting, Rest Stop, here in the studio this morning just before I came across the quote above from the French writer and founder of Surrealism Andre Breton. The two things, the image and his words, merged for a moment in my mind.

I saw the Red Chair, as I often do, as a form of memory, a place to stop in order look back in time and retrace my steps just as Breton wrote. The idea that I might be searching for lessons and meaning from the past that somehow escaped my recognition in those past moments sounds right as well.

Maybe more than the future or the present, the past and our perceptions of it are great fodder for an artist who is searching for meaning in this life and in their work. They see the present and the future as ultimately products of the past. Some lessons have been learned and some mistakes repeated, but the past seems to always echo forward in time for that artist.

And that’s what I see in this painting. The Red Chair is at a small clearing where it can stop to consider the path it has already traveled as well as the path that is ahead. The trunks of the trees surrounding it obstruct its view so that it has no idea of where it may be headed. The Red Chair uses the present as a rest stop to try to envision a future scouring its memory of the past for clues that might help it imagine and structure that future.

This painting, for me, is very much about that part of the artistic process which means, at its core, it is part of the human process. We all formulate our futures with our memories of the past. Most of us do it without much conscious thought, assuming that the lessons of the past have already been incorporated into our present. Hopefully, some of us will take the approach of the Red Chair and sit for a short rest in the present to consider the past and the future as one.

Perhaps there are lessons still to be learned and messages still unrecognized. That is certainly what I am seeking as an artist.

 

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Truly, it is in darkness that one finds the light, so when we are in sorrow, then this light is nearest of all to us.

Meister Eckhart (1260-1328)

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In the last few days I finished a small group of paintings to add to the several I had already submitted for the West End Gallery‘s annual Little Gems show that opens on Friday. I hadn’t been planning on doing these additional pieces as I have other work that needs to be started. But there was something in the original pieces that I took out last week that lit that spark that I had been futilely searching for in the first month of the year. So, I thought I had been stick with it for a bit to see where it goes.

This piece, which I call Sorrow’s Companion, is one of the new paintings to emerge. Since it’s been done, I keep coming back to this one to just peer at it, all the while trying to discern what I am seeing and feeling in it.

There’s something very sorrowful in it’s imagery. The dark clouds in the sky. The empty chair. The dead tree with the lone crow on a branch. The empty horizon. It all point to the sorrow of loss of someone or something.

Yet, despite the sense of sorrow there is dull sunlight peeking through the gray in the sky. As the 14th century German theologian Meister Eckhart pointed out in his words at the top of the page, light is found in the darkness and is always nearest in our sorrow.

The light is sorrow’s companion.

So, I see this piece as having an air of melancholy but it is an optimistic melancholy, if there can be such a thing. Maybe this comes from understanding that true sorrow comes from knowing the feeling of true love. And there is a certain joy in just having experienced that feeling that lingers through the sorrow.

Sorrow doesn’t come without joy…

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GC Myers- Rooted  smOnly when man succeeds in developing his reason and love further than he has done so far, only when he can build a world based on human solidarity and justice, only when he can feel rooted in the experience of universal brotherliness, will he have transformed his world into a truly human home.

–Erich Fromm, Sane Society, 1955

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This painting  hangs in my current show at the West End Gallery.  It is a 30″ by 10″ canvas that I call Rooted.

I often see the Red Chairs hanging in a tree as a symbol of human solidarity, of being part of a continuum that started long before its own origins, descended from a common beginning born in the very elements of this earth.

It’s this common beginning that we often forget in our journey through life. We find that we are separating and dividing ourselves, isolating ourselves further from the common root that bore us all.   In this isolation we fail to see our own humanity in others, seeing only our differences and not our common bonds.

And it is these common bonds that will no doubt determine our future on this earth.

Is the ideal of human solidarity a possibility or a pipe-dream?  I do not know.  It certainly seems improbable, given where we are at this point in time.  But I do know that if we dismiss it as a possibility then we don’t have much of a future ahead of us.  Our strength is carried in our roots, our oneness.

And that’s how I am seeing this painting…

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GC Myers-  Private Glow 2016REMINDER;

GALLERY TALK at the WEST END GALLERY

SATURDAY, AUGUST 6, 1-2 PM

Join me for what I hope will be a lively conversation along with a free drawing for the painting, “Private Glow”, shown here on the left, as well as a few other surprises!

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GC Myers- FragmentsOne of the things in my paintings that is often commented on and asked about is the Red Chair.  Sometimes hanging in a tree, sometimes alone on a hilltop or in a field or sometimes on its side on winding path, it is one of those recurring images that I use as a symbol.  It has come to represent ancestry and memory as well as acting for a symbolic stand-in (or sit-in) for humanity’s place in the landscape.

When asked about the time of its origins I always say that I think that it came about later,  several years after I had been showing my work for a time.  I can never give a truly accurate answer because it just seemed to come around at one point or another.  It just started showing up.

But going through some early work this morning I came across this old ink and watercolor piece from mid-1994, at a point when I was still struggling to find voice.  It’s an exercise, an experimental little thing that I would quickly do every so often back then to  jog my mind and play with forms and colors.  It’s kind of a goofy little thing, not something I am particularly proud of or excited by.  I called it Hoedown.

But the thing that jumped out this morning was what has to be the first appearance of that Red Chair.  It’s a little cock-eyed, crude and worn but it is a Red Chair.  So now when I am asked I can say without hesitation that it first popped up before I ever began showing my work in galleries.  It actually precedes the Red Tree now that I think of it.  I guess I will now have to see if that makes an earlier appearance somewhere as well…GC Myers Hoedown 1994

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GC Myers- EvolutionProgress has not followed a straight ascending line, but a spiral
with rhythms of progress and retrogression, of evolution and dissolution.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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I was going through some older posts and came across this quote from Goethe.  I immediately looked over at this new painting, a 12″ by 12″ canvas, that I had been working on yesterday.  Something in it spoke to me from this quote, something that made me look at this piece differently.

It’s one of those pieces that don’t emerge smoothly from the hand or head.  Everything about bringing some of these pieces to life seems tortured and messy.  Pure struggle with nothing coming easy.  The paint doesn’t seem right and the message seems unclear.  Every move is tentative and probing, hoping that one stroke will send it down an easier path to completion.

Sometimes that happens.  A touch here and there and suddenly it takes to flight like a young bird discovering what its wings can do for the first time. Pure joy in the newly found grace and rhythm.

But sometimes it doesn’t happen and that same bird that you think should fly flutters to the ground, unsteady and unsure.  Not ready yet to take off.

At the end of the day, I felt as though this bird was somewhere in between.

But seeing these words changed my view of it.  To me, its struggle was its narrative, its story.  It is a representation of its own evolution, its own struggle to find its own form.  The sky has that rhythm of progress and retrogression and the relationship between the chair and the bare tree is a representation of an evolution of a kind.

I am still taking it in, still looking at it but am no longer focusing on the struggle of its creation.  It now has a meaning that moved past that.

I think I will call it Evolution.

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GC Myers- Like Sugar In Water

Whenever I find myself going through  images from the past several years, I inevitably find myself stopping when I come to this painting from back in early 2011.  It is simply put and spare in nature but it just has a quietly commanding presence that draws me in.  It was part of my 2012 show at the Fenimore Art Museum and I received many comments from people about this painting who were also struck by it.  I thought I’d rerun the post from back in early 2011 where I wrote about this painting:

I call this painting Like Sugar In Water.  It is a continuation of the group of paintings that I have been working on over the past few months and is by far the largest of the series at 36″ by 60″.   The larger scale gives the piece a real sense of  space and depth that I think carries the work.

This painting evolved in a much different way than I originally thought it might.  As I started, I first saw this as being a piece about movement and saw a large tree bowing in the  gusting wind with leaves being released out into the large space created by the sky, which had its own sense of motion in the brushwork.  But as the sky came into being it changed and I found myself sensing a much different feel for this piece.  It became quieter and the sky didn’t feel frantic but rather had a sense of light breaking into particles and quietly dissolving into a multitude of colors.   Because of this change, the central figure in the painting, the tree, changed for me.  It had to have a calmness but it had to have a different function than my typical red tree.  Here I saw it as a connection between the landscape and the sky, like a conduit of energy from the earth upward.  It would have to be less dominate than my typical red tree.

At this point I set this piece aside so that I could fully consider it.  I really felt that the landscape and the sky were strong and could stand on their own but I wanted to make sure in my own mind.  So I went to work on other work and kept an eye on this piece, continually looking at it and pondering what lay in store for it.  Finally, after a couple of weeks, I decided it was time to let this painting complete its metamorphosis.  I had come to see the tree as being bare of leaves with the branches stretching up into the sky, almost dissolving into the particles of the sky. This feeling of dissolving is carried through in this piece by the landscape as well.  I see it in the road that runs through the structured geometric pattern of the field of the foreground, moving up through the spreading branches of the tree and into the breaking sky.

I see the red chair here, not as I often do as a symbol of memory or of the dead, but as a symbol of the temporary nature of our existence here, living as we do between the solidness of the earth beneath our feet and the particulate nature of the heavens above our heads.  This is reflected in the title as well.  Perhaps the universe is like a large body of water and we are but a bit of sugar.

I don’t know about that.  But I do that I think that there is a lot to be found in this piece and I find myself pondering over it quite often,  taking in whatever message there is in it.

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GC Myers- RootedIn this new painting, a 10″ by 30″ canvas that I am calling Rooted, the Red Tree steps aside and allows the Red Chair to take centerstage.

The title is an obvious reference to the Red Chair’s most frequent interpretation as a symbol of family and ancestry, with the dark tree that holding them looking in a way like a pedigree chart with branches coming off the main root and branching out.  The path that disappears in the distance could be  referring to the journey that the family tree took at an earlier time, perhaps emigrating from a distant land.

But for all its symbolism, I feel the strength of this piece is more from a visual fulfillment in the way the tree’s trunk and branches break up the picture plane into little islands of light, as though I am looking down on it from above and the tree transforms into a river with the branches becoming smaller streams feeding into it.  Thus, the Red Chairs are not growing away from the earth but are flowing back toward it.

There are a lot of things happening in this modest piece. Even now, looking up at it as it rests on the fireplace here in the studio, I find myself taking in different aspects of it that send my mind in new directions. And I like the fact that it can be simply what it is or can move me into a completely different realm of thought.

Rooted will be part of my show, Native Voice, opening June 5 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA.

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GC Myers- DeliberationsThis is a new 12″ by 24″ painting on canvas that, for the moment, I am calling Deliberations.  I finished it yesterday and have been looking at it ever since, trying to decipher what it is that I am seeing in it, why it is pulling me in,  Something very cryptic in it– perhaps it’s the birds or the Red Chair or the stubbed off tree limbs– that fills me with questions.

What is this place?  What do those birds have to do with the Red Chair?  Is the sun rising or falling past the horizon and is that snow on the ground?  Why is the Red Chair in the circle of earth?

Quite honestly, I don’t know.

Starting with the given title, Deliberations, I begin to see this as a place of  judgement, either some sort of self-judgement or a spiritual reckoning.  As  though it is a place where when one has passed on, they go to review their life to determine what they done with the time given to them here on Earth. The life in question is the Red Chair, the red representing the physical embodiment.  The birds might be witnesses or judges or both.  The light over the horizon might be the next step forward– heaven, if that is what your belief system tells you it is called– and the trees act as a barrier between this place and that next step.

Kind of reminiscent, in a more symbolic and  folky way, of the Albert Brooks/Meryl Streep movie, Defending Your Life, where the dead find themselves at a Disney-like resort where, over several days they attend hearings where they review and defend the life they have lived to to determine whether they have learned its lessons in order to move on to a more ethereal plane.  If not, they return to try again.

But maybe this is just a red chair in the woods and those are simply some birds who frequent those woods.

Who knows?  It’s all in the eye of the beholder.  As for myself, I will deliberate on it a little longer…

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GC Myers-Family Path smYesterday’s Gallery Talk at the Kada Gallery went really well.  Many,many, many thanks to Kathy, Joe and Morgan at the gallery for providing a comfortable setting and the many folks in attendance for taking time out on a rare sunny Saturday afternoon to spend it with me.  They were an absolutely wonderful group –attentive and inquisitive–which made my task much easier, making me feel very welcomed and at ease in front of them.

Hopefully not so much that I over-talked  or came across as too full of myself.  I always worry about things like that on the ride back home, agonizing over things I said or didn’t say.  It comes easy because at that point I am pretty tired of hearing my own voice, tired of pretty much being the public me at that moment.

One thing I forgot to mention which bothered me as I was on my way home was that it was the input that I get from the encouragement and stories shared by the folks that attend these events are such a huge inspiration and the motor that drives my work.  I work untold hours alone in my studio and it is their reaction to the work and the fact that they allow me to glimpse briefly into their lives that make them seem almost present at times in my studio.  Distant eyes looking over my shoulder.

I shared one recent inspirational story that took place very recently right there at the Kada Gallery.  A week or so ago, they received an email inquiry from a lady in Switzerland about a large painting, titled Family Lines with the Red Tree with a Red Chair in its branches.  It turns out that she had recently lost her husband to Alzheimer’s and one of their final exchanges was about that very painting, obviously seeing it in online.  Her husband said that he was the Red Tree and she was the Red Chair.  I have to admit to being made teary-eyed by that.  How can something like not stick with me, not find its way into my thoughts when I am alone in the studio?

That story, like so many others shared with me over the years, brings a sense of purpose to the sometimes abstract and introverted act of painting.  I can never fully thank these people for the gift in their sharing.

991126 Color RisingOne of the ways I do try thank folks at these talks is by having several giveaways, including an original painting.  We had a very good time with it yesterday and the group was so receptive that I thought they deserved another.  I had a painting, Color Rising, from a few years back that won by a young lady in her 90’s which leads me to this week’s Sunday music selection.  The painting, shown left, was a monochromatic piece, shades of back and gray with just a dash of color.  I explained that I do these paintings periodically to just more less refresh my color palette in the period between working on shows and that seeing one of my compositions with the color removed was a bit like hearing a song that you’ve heard a thousand times before done by one person done by somebody else.  The song has the same notes, chords, melody and lyrics but it is somehow different, somehow changed.

That brings me to this musical example, a version of the Beatles‘ song In My Life from 1965‘s Rubber Soul album.  My god, I can’t believe this song is fifty years old!  This version is from the American recordings of Johnny Cash, done in the final months of his life.  His age and ailments changed his delivery and imbued the songs with real heart-felt emotion and purity.  A powerful group of music.  This version of the Beatles’ song is not so different but it has  his own personal meaning which makes it his own.

Again, so many thanks to everyone who came yesterday.  It was my great pleasure to spend the day with you all.  Hope your Sunday is a good one…

 

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