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Posts Tagged ‘Red Tree’

Below is a wonderful essay on what we can learn from listening to trees from Hermann Hesse. The late Nobel Prize winning writer included this in his 1920 book, Wandering: Notes and Sketches. There is a lot to like here but I was most struck by the line: Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

Give it a read for yourself:

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

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Robert Henri- Irish Girl (Mary O’Donnel) -1913

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Because we are saturated with life, because we are human, our strongest motive is life, humanity; and the stronger the motive back of the line the stronger, and therefore more beautiful, the line will be.

–Robert Henri (1865-1929)

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I came across this quote from the highly influential painter/ teacher Robert Henri and it made me think of two separate incidents that influenced my work.

The first comes from the quote itself, about how a strong belief in humanity and life should manifest itself in one’s art, creating a stronger and bolder and more beautiful line. It brings to mind the only art training I ever received, a night course, Drawing 101, from a local community college. I was taking it because at the time I had an interest in pursuing architecture and needed a portfolio. All the drawing I had done up to that time was just, more or less, doodling on bits of paper, in journals, or in the margins of magazines and newspapers. I thought a course on drawing would get me to some work that might help in putting together a portfolio.

The course ended up being a travesty. The instructor had little interest in being there and gave only cursory instruction. He kept an eye fixed on the clock and often ended the sessions early so that he could get to the local pub a bit quicker. I didn’t get much out of the course and dropped my quest to go into architecture but I did get one bit of advice that I carried with me.

The instructor pointed out that he preferred strong, bold lines even if they were not completely accurate or correct in the context of the drawing. They exuded confidence and that was more important that accuracy, especially if the lines were weak and tentative. That really struck a chord with me and stuck with me through the years until I began painting.

I think his words line up well with Henri’s assertion above. That confidence the instructor referred to is much the same as Henri’s saturation with life and humanity.

The other incident that I was reminded of upon stumbling across Henri’s words is my encounter with the painting at the top of the page. It is titled Irish Girl ( Mary O’Donnel) and was painted by Henri in 1913 and is at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. When I first saw it, I was showing my work at several galleries and was about a year away from my first big solo show at the Principle Gallery.

I encountered this painting in a large gallery in the museum and was struck how people would immediately head to this painting, even though it was one of the smaller pieces in the large space. I couldn’t figure out why this was. I mean, it was a strong painting but the way people were attracted to it seemed out of line with what I was seeing. Looking at it dispassionately, I finally settled on the color of her sweater as being the reason. It was deep crimson that really popped off the wall.

It made me examine my own palette of colors. My colors at the time were more earth toned and red was certainly not a large part of it. When it did come into play, it was usually more subdued and washed out. Pale. To tell the truth, I was a bit afraid of it as a color. When I tried it in a bolder way, it often skewed to harsher, sharper tones that were not to my liking and usually didn’t align with the emotional context of the painting.

But seeing Henri’s use of it made me better appreciate the power of the color. I began to work with it more and soon was incorporating in my work on a regular basis. It became a vital part of my visual vocabulary. It showed itself in a big way with my first show at the Principle Gallery which was titled Red Tree. It has stuck with me and I have Henri’s Irish Girl to thank.

It’s interesting how sometimes failed attempts, like my college course, or confounding encounters, such as mine with Henri’s painting, have impacts on you that you could never foresee. You never truly know what will come from anything we stumble across. Inspiration comes in many forms.

Have a good Saturday.

 

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GC Myers- A Small Serenity*******************************

We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil. Serenity is contagious. If we smile at someone, he or she will smile back. And a smile costs nothing. We should plague everyone with joy. If we are to die in a minute, why not die happily, laughing? 

― Swami SatchidanandaThe Yoga Sutras

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The painting above, created a couple of years back, recently came back to me which was a surprise because it really spoke to and pacified me from the moment it was finished. It was painted as a reaction to the darker nature of the time in which it was painted and was meant to serve as a hopeful guide forward. Given that the darkness of that time has only deepened, I believe its message is even more necessary today. 

To give an example, during the drive to visit my father who is a resident in a nursing facility suffering from Alzheimer’s related dementia, I find myself more and more aggravated these days by the people I encounter on the road. Some days I arrive at the facility seething and tense. But walking in, I try to smile and say something, a simple “hello” or “how are you?,” to the folks I meet on the way. That simple act and the occasional return of a smile or greeting from the other person has a profoundly soothing effect on me. My mounting misanthropy fades away for those moments.

And maybe that’s what I hope for this piece.  I don’t know. Anyway, here’s what I wrote about this piece a few years back:

I call this tidy 6″ by 12″ painting A Small Serenity. It’s a small and simple piece but it has a lovely feeling of tranquility in it, one that far exceeds its humble size. If anything, its dimensions enhance its sense of serene quietness.

And perhaps that is how a contagion of serenity begins, as a small seed within ourselves. A tiny feeling of peaceful tranquility that grows then bursts from us, radiating outward to infect those around us and hopefully through them to others.

And on and on and on.

The cynical part of me knows that such a plague of placidity is improbable but looking at this little painting for a moment gives me the serenity to hope and ask,“Why not? What harm could be done in being kind and calm or in wearing a smile? As the late Swami Satchidananda says above, a smile costs nothing.

So, let’s start this plague today.

Shouldn’t we all feel free as birds?

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I used the beginning paragraph from an Immanuel Kant essay as an intro when I first wrote the blogpost about the painting below, Dare to Know. Recent events sent me back to the 1784 essay, What is Enlightenment?, from which they were taken. I found that the rest of the essay was equally as compelling as that first paragraph, describing how the vast majority of people are willing to relinquish the choices in their lives to others. It seems to say that people are  basically fearful of taking responsibility for much of anything and will gladly sacrifice the freedom to think and decide for themselves to anyone willing to tell them what to do, even when it is not in their best interest. This essay urges people to step forward into the light, to question things, to think independently, and accept responsibility. That is how enlightenment can be found.

It seems to me that this describes the current divide in this nation and throughout the world. There are those willing to blindly believe that those in positions of trust, such as our leaders or clergy or captains of industry, will act responsibly, doing what is best for the vast majority of the population without self interest. They choose the path of least resistance, believing hollow promises that require little from them.

And then there are those who question, those who seek truth and clarity, those who demand that trust be earned. They want take responsibility for the decisions in their lives, even those that are difficult and require sacrifice. They desire accountability for themselves and for those others who claim to know what is best for them. 

While it is not always an easy path, that willingness to dare to know may well lead to enlightenment, as Kant indicates. Myself, I prefer that path.

Here is the original blogpost:

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“Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude!- ‘Have courage to use your own reason!’- that is the motto of enlightenment.”

― Immanuel Kant,  What Is Enlightenment?

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Sapere Aude!  From the Latin for Dare to Know.

I came across the passage above from the 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant and felt immediately that it was a great match for this new painting. In fact I am calling this piece, 11′ by 15″ on paper,  Dare to Know (Sapere Aude!)

The Red Tree here is removed away from the influence and shading of the other trees and houses in the foreground, out of darkness and into the light. There is a light about the Red Tree and a sense of freedom in the openness of the space around it. It is free to examine the world, free to seek the knowledge it craves, and free to simply think for itself.

It’s a great idea, this concept of enlightenment and one that we definitely could use today. Too many of us form our own base of knowledge by relying on the thoughts and opinions of others, often without giving much consideration as to their truthfulness, motives, or origins. Or we shade our base of knowledge with our own desires for  how reality should appear, holding onto false beliefs that suit us even when they obviously contradict reality.

In short, there is no enlightenment based on falsehoods, no way to spin darkness into light. Enlightenment comes in stepping away from the darkness of lies and deceptions to see the world as it is, with clarity. It means stripping away our own self defenses and admitting our own shortcomings, prejudices, and predispositions.

It may not always be what one hoped for but it is an honest reality. And maybe that is enlightenment, the willingness to face all truths with honesty.

To dare to know.

Sapere Aude!

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One third, more or less, of all the sorrow that the person I think I am must endure is unavoidable. It is the sorrow inherent in the human condition, the price we must pay for being sentient and self-conscious organisms, aspirants to liberation, but subject to the laws of nature and under orders to keep on marching, through irreversible time, through a world wholly indifferent to our well-being, toward decrepitude and the certainty of death. The remaining two thirds of all sorrow is homemade and, so far as the universe is concerned, unnecessary.

Aldous Huxley

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The painting at the top is yet another new piece, a 10″ x 30″ canvas that is titled Let It Go. It is part of he group of new work that I am bringing with me on Saturday when I head to the Principle Gallery for my annual Gallery Talk there, which begins at 1 PM.  More details on that later in this post.

The words above from Aldous Huxley are from his book, fittingly titled Island. Little known, it was his final book, written in 1962, and presented a utopian alternative to his Brave New World.

I really don’t know the book myself so I can’t honestly depict what it has to say but the small bit above aligns with my own observations on our lives here. We are all subject to the sorrow of simply being alive. We experience pain and loss of abilities as we age and suffer the loss of others along the way before our own life comes to an end. That is simply part of the deal and is to be expected, unpleasant as that may seem.

But much of what makes life sometimes miserable is, for the most part, avoidable. It is our reaction to the vagaries, missteps, mistreatment and insults that life has in store for us that is the culprit here. We have a choice in how we react to these things. We can choose to hold on to these things, to allow them to make us angry or anxious or fearful, or we can see that they are, in the greater scheme of things, inconsequential.

We don’t have to hold on to these things. They can be let go.

That’s what I see in this painting. I know it sounds funny coming from a guy who regularly displays his own anger, anxiety and fears here on this page. I guess even though you sometimes know what the problem is, it takes practice to overcome it.

And I am trying to release those things that I can’t control. Or let go of those things that only do me harm in my holding on to them. Anger and hatred, regret and fear. Just let it go.

I’m trying.

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Speaking of fear and anxiety, my annual Gallery Talk is this Saturday, September 21, beginning at 1 PM at the Principle Gallery in beautiful Old Town Alexandria. This is my 17th annual Gallery Talk there and I think this could be a good one. There’s a lot to talk about and I have some interesting giveaways including at least one original painting! Plus I may even demonstrate my ability to read minds! Or maybe guess your weight. Who knows?

One thing is guaranteed, as I have pointed out in the past:  It will not be the worst hour of your life.

Good conversation, some prizes and a no pain guarantee. How can you resist an offer like that?

Get there early to grab a seat and maybe we can chat a bit beforehand.

See ya’ there Saturday!

 

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True morality consists not in following the beaten track, but in finding the true path for ourselves, and fearlessly following it.

Mahatma Gandhi

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This is another small painting on paper that will be accompanying me to the Principle Gallery in Alexandria this coming Saturday, September 21. I will be giving my annual Gallery Talk there beginning at 1 PM and I always bring a small group of new work with me– along with the painting(s?) that I will be giving away at the end of the Talk.

Some of the new pieces that will be coming feature small distant solo figures in generally large open landscapes. It’s a theme that has been a favorite of mine for some time now but one that I don’t visit all that often. Maybe I have to be in a certain mindset for them to come. Don’t really know.

I call this painting Off the Beaten Track. I like this piece for many reasons, including the obvious messaging of it. It just feels right which is something I can’t explain at all.

I can explain the message of this piece, at least as I see it and as it relates to my own experience. The Gandhi quote at the top partially explains it, that true morality can’t be dictated by the crowd that travels the beaten path. Without getting into the details, I think the current populist movements taking place around the world, including here in the US, are sufficient evidence of that.

What they claim for morality is certainly not the same as mine.

But beyond morality, life comes down to knowing when to veer from the beaten track, when to forge your own path and find your own way. That is absolutely true in making a life for yourself in the arts. There are few guides to show you the way  so many stick with the path, which is, as a result, crowded to the point that everything seems squeezed into a bland sameness. And it’s often headed in directions that don’t seem appealing or to make sense for what you’re hoping for your work.

Sometimes you have to break away from that crowded path and climb to higher ground, to look for something that draws you forward, that keeps you moving.

A muse. An inspiration. An opportunity.

To higher ground, where your voice can be heard above the drone coming from the path, where you can be clearly seen.

Fresh air and good views, both of where you’ve been and where you want to go.

This is what I am seeing in this little piece. It might be smallish in size but it speaks volumes for me.

Hope to see you at the Gallery Talk on Saturday. I have some neat things to share…

 

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To all my friends without distinction I am ready to display my opulence: come one, come all; and whosoever likes to take a share is welcome to the wealth that lies within my soul.

–Antisthenes
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This new painting is headed to the Principle Gallery in Alexandria with me this coming Saturday, September 21, for my annual Gallery Talk there, which begins at 1 PM.  This is my 17th Gallery Talk at the Principle and it has turned into a neat little event, one that has me engaging in a usually lively talk, giving away some gifts ( including at least one painting–see yesterday’s blog!) and unveiling a smaller group of new paintings.

This is one of those new paintings, a 20″ by 40″ canvas called True Opulence.

I hesitated in using the word opulence for this piece because I don’t see it as celebrating those things we most often associate with wealth and luxury. Not money or gold or diamonds or fancy car and clothes. No, it is more in the vein of the words at the top from the Greek philosopher Antisthenes.

It is a celebration of our ability to feel opulence in the world around us and within ourselves.

In the lushness of a field. In the richness in the colors of the flowers. In the clarity of a clean bright sky. In the graceful roll of a distant hill. In the beauty of a tree reaching outward. In our ability to experience these things and feel ourselves connected to the whole of it all.

That is the real opulence in this world.

True Opulence.

Funny how adding the word true changes the meaning of opulence. But it does. It makes the other opulence seem almost false, as though it is a mere replication of that which is available to all.

I hope you can come out this Saturday to the Principle Gallery to see True Opulence and the other new pieces. You might even win a painting or take home some swag. Your odds are pretty good! It starts at 1 PM so get there a bit early to grab a seat.

 

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