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“Anxiety was born in the very same moment as mankind. And since we will never be able to master it, we will have to learn to live with it—just as we have learned to live with storms.”

― Paulo Coelho, Manuscript Found in Accra


I wasn’t planning on writing about angst this morning. I think most of us are all worn to nubs from the anxiety of this time so unless I have come up with some sort of therapy or special salve that will take it away, my words will have little effect.

Might even make it worse.

But an item popped up on my alerts that piqued my interest and it had to do with angst. Well, angst in the form of one of my paintings. I clicked on the link and there was YouTube music video with a painting that was very recognizable to me as the image illustrating it.

It was from Lithuanian-born musician/composer Žilvinas Smalys for a short composition of his called Growing Angst For 2 Bassoons. It was written and recorded on October 11, 2020 so it is most likely his take on the anxiety of this time in his part of the world.

Angst knows no boundaries.

I am not surprised that he chose this particular painting, The Angst, to accompany his composition. It is one of my personal pieces, a keeper, that has been with me for the past 25 years or so. Whenever I show it, it gets a lot of attention. It was even used in a college level textbook a few years back. It even shows up on the Google search for “angst paintings” right under Munch’s The Scream.

And it works well with this compsotion.

Žilvinas Smalys is a performer, teacher and composer who was, as I wrote, born and raised in Lithuania. His training as a classical musician throughout Europe has been extensive and he has played with orchestras around the globe. He currently resides in Santiago, Chile, serving since 2008 as the principal bassoonist at Teatro Municipal de Santiago as well as being a professor of bassoon and chamber music at Universidad Mayor de Santiago

Smalys has a nice YouTube page that features many of his compositions. I urge you to take a look. His music is lovely. Below is Growing Angst and another short piece, Lament For 2 Bassoons.

Hopefully this will help free up your own angst and you can move on to have a good day.


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A BRAVE AND STARTLING TRUTH

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

–Maya Angelou


I needed something with hope this morning, something not wrought of despair. I need something on a higher plane today, being as I am, so tired of hearing from the hate-filled people, as the late poet Maya Angelou put so well in a certain poem: whose mouths abide cankerous words/ Which challenge our very existence.

That is from the poem above, A Brave and Startling Truth. Maya Angelou wrote this piece in 1995 in specifically for the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations. The video below is her reading of the poem at that event.

Hope it lifts you a little higher today.


 

 

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“At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door and say,—’Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson


In my Gallery Talk I spoke about the struggle to go inside myself to create in these crazy days. The outer world and its many problems seems to be keeping me from the inner. It’s a frustration that more or less paralyzes me, requiring me to go put in a lot of extra effort just to get down to work.

I am trying to reconcile this, to somehow get past this feeling.

I came across this snippet above from Emerson and it reminded me that I am the one letting the outer world in. Oh, I know you can’t keep it completely out but I was the one opening the door and inviting it in. I was the one who listened to it as it went on about its problems and thought I could somehow help it out, foolish as that idea seems when I write it out. I went, as Emerson writes, into their confusion.

It also reminds me that I get to choose how I respond to the outer world. And being paralyzed is not a choice. It’s a refusal to choose.

So, I choose to shed the paralysis, to get back to work, to explore those inner paths once more. It’s my choice and what I do.

We all have that power to choose how we react to our own forms of paralysis, fear, anger, frustration and so many other negative aspects of our world. Most likely you don’t need to hear this. You probably know this as well as I. But I know I sometimes fall out of rhythm and have to be reminded once in a while.

The painting at the top is from a few years back and lives now with me in the studio. It’s one of those pieces that really hit high notes personally for me right from the moment it took form on the easel. It’s one of those pieces that surprises me in that it hasn’t yet found a home but also please me because I get to live with it for a bit longer. I thought it echoed with the words of Emerson today. It originally echoed with the words from the Rudyard Kipling poem after which it is named, If.

I was going to include the poem here in print but here’s a fine reading of it by actor John Hurt complete with the words shown. And some powerful black and white images.

Have a good day and choose well.


 

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I was checking YouTube yesterday to see if the videos from last week’s Virtual Gallery Talk from the West End Gallery were being viewed. As I came to my page I saw a strange looking entry among my suggested videos. It was my name as a title appearing to overlay what I could see was my work underneath.

There was lettering above my name that appeared to me to be Korean. Clicking on it, I saw that it was a compilation of my work set to three pieces of music with photos of me along with what appeared to be biographical info, all gleaned from the internet.

It’s a strange sensation to see your work in this way, compiled and used by someone else. I am sure there are those of you out there who feel I should be upset over the unauthorized use of my imagery in this way and maybe you’re right. But I knew that once I began putting my work online as I do, it would possibly be subject to this sort of thing. I felt it was worth the risk in order to get my work out there.

I sometimes at gallery talks tell the story of the great photographer Brassai asking his best known subject and friend Pablo Picasso for advice on selling some drawings he had created. For how much should he sell them, for example. Picasso, who liked the Brassai drawings, told him to put a very low price on them because he needed them to get out into the world where they could be known and be seen. Where they could establish a name and achieve a noteworthiness that might one day make all his work valuable. Picasso claimed that had been his route.

It’s advice I still give young artists.

And that’s how I view this– a result of putting my work out into the world.

Actually, I am happy and flattered that my work has reached across the world and translates well into other cultures. You go into this hoping your work speaks to all people and to get a small bit of proof that it might doing that is gratifying.

There are worst things in this world.

Take a look, if you so desire. I could do without the photos of myself but I like the musical accompaniment’s different moods. Have a good day.

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I don’t believe that there’s anything I’d like to do less than watch myself talk. And the last couple of days have sure reinforced that belief.

But that’s what I’ve done for the last couple of days as I have edited the video from Saturday’s Virtual Gallery Talk from the West End Gallery. I am cutting out some rough spots between the segments, such as where I swing my camera around to tour the gallery a bit or the transition from the prize drawing (which has also been cut) to the Q&A segment. Outside of the prize drawing, which we decided to cut because of privacy concerns, no real content has been cut.

There are going to be two videos. This first one presents just my prepared presentation. The second, which will be out  tomorrow or Friday, will have all the segments.

I’ve learned a lot from this experience and expect that these lessons will show up in future videos of even higher quality. Thanks to Jesse, Linda and John at the West End Gallery for all the extra work (and anxiety) that went into making this happen. It was a lot more work than any of us anticipated. And many thanks to everyone who took an hour or two out of a busy summer Saturday to tune and make it all happen. And congratulations to the winners of the paintings. Hope they live up to your expectations!

Hopefully, as it’s being presented, it will give you a fairly representative gallery talk experience. So, for those of you out there who wanted to take part but weren’t able, here’s the first part of my Virtual Gallery Talk from the West End Gallery.

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“Sovereign Solitude”- Now at the West End Gallery

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“10 percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and the remaining 80 percent can be moved in either direction.”

― Susan Sontag

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I was going to talk about some current events– the Portland protest moms, the opening of baseball and its integration of protest within it, the return of the term Death Panels in some areas to determine who gets or doesn’t get covid-19 treatments, and so on, maybe even share comedian Sarah Cooper’s brilliant treatment of the absurd Person*Woman*Man*Camera*TV episode– but I just can’t do it this morning.

Instead, I am thinking about the words above from author Susan Sontag and it has a ring of truth for me. Some are going to respond with cruelty in any situation– we all know someone like that, don’t we?— while some will always express a form of mercy and care. The rest of us hover somewhere in the middle, sometimes going back and forth toward the two extremes.

And so long as this stays in some sort of balance, that large groups of us don’t start moving toward the side of cruelty, it remains  a tolerable situation. Livable.

I worry that the acceptance of cruelty and the rejection of mercy has become too easy a choice for too many. Too many react without empathy, without the thought of others’ struggles and without considering how their own demeaning of others ultimately demeans themselves.

I would like to say if I am not merciful that I at least lean toward the side of mercy. Maybe just being aware of these poles of reaction is a start toward a world with a bit more mercy.

As always, I don’t know.

And the world keeps turning…

Here’s a lovely piece of new music from composer Max Richter that is custom made for this discussion. It includes a thought provoking video that I conclude must have been produced before the pandemic. I think we all notice things like people riding subways without masks or people hugging a little more now.

Anyway, please take a few moments and give a listen. It might help a bit.

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Living in isolation has never been a great challenge for me in normal times. I thought I was a distant island that only needed a visitor every once in a while for those few things I couldn’t provide for myself. But these are not normal times and the impingement from the outer world pushes hard into my space now, disrupting the solitude that I thought was impenetrable.

Listening to the words that the great leader*** spoke yesterday, where he basically admitted that he wanted the states’ governors to bend the knee before him and had instructed the VP to not call and offer assistance to those that didn’t, made me realize that we are all islanders now.

50+ sovereign states, all fending for themselves, with a hope that exceeds reality that the unified power of the central government will offer much needed aid, will somehow favor them above the others in their time of need. We are in trouble and call out for aid to those who have a sworn duty to serve us.

Much as Puerto Rico did not so long ago in the aftermath of the historic hurricanes that ravaged that island.

We are all Puerto Rico now.

We probably should have taken the treatment Puerto Rico received, a few rolls of paper towel dismissively thrown at them along with conditioned promises of aid that were never fully realized, as an omen. We all are about to receive that same treatment and the storm that approaches this time is even larger and deadlier.

Anyway, I came across a post written for a 2013 show at the West End Gallery that featured the above painting, Islander, as its title piece. I thought the words were pertinent to this time. Its a painting that really resonates deeply with me on a personal level and one that, inexplicably at least for me, has never found a home. It still resides at the Just Looking Gallery in California, waiting patiently for someone to see what I see in it.

Along with the post below, I have included a version of Simon and Garfunkel‘s classic I Am a Rock. This video features the lyrics which is a way I have been listening to a lot of music lately. Times of crisis make me look harder for connecting threads of meaning. Whether they are there is another thing.

Give a look and have a good day on your little islands.

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I am an islander.

But I don’t live on an island. Never have and probably never will.

No, my island is a metaphorical place, one that exists in the creative ether of my mind. An island that is completely apart from and immune to the outer world that exists across the deep surrounding waters. Self-sustaining and self-ruled, a blank slate on which I can create my own reality.

It’s a place free from the ire and pettiness of others. Free of strife and injustice. and filled with the quiet of solitude. Filled with color, warmth and emotion.

An island of creation and peace.

But there is a paradox in being an islander. While trying to remain separate, it becomes abundantly clear that we can never really exist as totally independent from the outer world. Actually, to the islander those bonds to the outside world become even more apparent and important. The isolation only serves to heighten our recognition of our inclusion and connection to the world. You begin to recognize them as lifelines, bringing those things to the island that you cannot create in yourself.

Try as one might, one can never live in isolation from their own humanity. I think the best you can do is to create an island that you can visit periodically to revitalize yourself. And that’s what I believe I see in the work for this show– paintings that take me away for a short while from the outer world and place me on that peaceful island.

For that short time, I am truly an islander.

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No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

–John Donne, Meditation XVII, 1624

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Yesterday, we observed the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp near the end of World War II. an event which made clear the horrors that the Nazis had perpetrated on the Jews and other groups. One of the survivors of Auschwitz was Viktor Frankl, who went on to become an eminent psychiatrist and author.

His book, Man’s Search For Meaning, is one of my favorite books, one that brought more insight to the world of those who lived through the Holocaust. The lessons from it also helped me through the tough times in my life. The post below from several years back discusses the lesson of that book.

I urge you to read the book. You can even listen to the entire audiobook freely on YouTube. I have included it at the bottom along with a video presentation that gives a brief synopsis of some of the takeaways from the book. It’s short and well done. There is an ad for the Great Courses which takes up the last minute but it’s worth watching.

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GC Myers- The Moment's Mission 2011Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated, thus, everyone’s task is unique as his specific opportunity.

——Viktor Frankl

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The words of Viktor Frankl, the WW II concentration camp survivor who went on to greater fame as a psychotherapist and author, seemed to ring true for this square painting after I finished it. I saw the Red Tree here as one that finally saw its uniqueness in the world, sensing in the moment that with this individuality there came a mission that must be carried out.

A reason for being. A purpose.

I think that’s something we have all desired in our lives. I know it was something I have longed for throughout my life and often found lacking at earlier stages. I remember reading Frankl’s book, Man’s Search For Meaning, at a point when I felt adrift in the world. I read how the inmates of the concentration camp who survived often had  a reason that they consciously grasped in order to continue their struggle to live. It could be something as simple as seeing the ones they loved again or finishing a task they had set for themselves. Anything to give them a sense of future. Those who lost their faith in a future lost their will to live and usually perished.

At the time when I read this, I understood the words but didn’t fully comprehend the concept. I felt little meaning in my life and didn’t see one near at hand. It wasn’t until years later when I finally found what I do now that I began to understand Frankl’s words and saw that I had purpose in this world as a husband, an artist and a person of feeling.

We are all unique beings. We all have unique missions. The trick is in recognizing our individuality and trusting that it will carry us forward into a future

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I have posted This description of one of the process for one of my paintings, followed by a short video showing its evolution from start to finish, a couple of times over the past nines years.  I thought it might be a good time to revisit it as there are many new readers who may not be familiar with how my work comes together. I paint in two distinctly different processes, one being a reductive process where I put paint on the surface then remove much of it and this process that is additive, with layer after layer of paint building up. Here’s what I wrote in January of 2011:

I worked on a new piece the last couple of days, a large canvas that is 24″ by 48″. I had already gessoed the canvas with a distinct texture and applied a layer of black paint. I had vague ideas of where I thought the painting might go from a composition standpoint but knew that this was only a starting point in my mind. Like most of my paintings, the finished product is often drastically different than what I imagined at the beginning. As I paint, each bit of paint dictates the next move and if I don’t try to force in something that goes against these subtle directions given to me by the paint the piece usually has an organic feel, a natural rhythm in the way the different elements go together. A cohesion of sorts.

Knowing I wanted to use a cityscape in this piece, I started in the bottom left, slowly building the city with geometric forms and rooflines in a red oxide paint that I use to block in my composition. I prefer using the red oxide because it gives a warmth under the layers paint to come that shows through in small bits that are almost undetectable at a quick glance. 

At this point I still am unsure where the painting is going. I have thoughts of filling the canvas completely with the cityscape with the smallest view of the sky through the buildings but am not married to this idea. The paint isn’t telling me enough yet to know. But it has told me that I want a path of some sort- a street or canal- through the composition. I make room for one near the center before starting on the right side with the buildings there. I go back and forth between the right and left sides as I build the city, constantly stepping back to give it a good look from a distance to assess its progress and direction. 

 At a point where the city is nearing the halfway point on filling the canvas, I decide I want this piece to be less about the cityscape and more about how it opens to the open sky beyond it. I extend the road that started at the bottom and twist it upward, terminating it at a bend in what will be now a field beyond the city edge. The sky, though still empty, is pushing me ahead, out of the city. The piece has become about a sense of escape, taking the street from the cityscape and heading upward on it towards the open fields and sky. Painting faster now, another field with a bit of the road appearing is finished beyond the first lower field. I have created a cradle in the landscape for the sky to which I now turn my brush.

There’s a certain symmetry at work here and I decide I want the central focus of a sun in this composition. I roughly block in a round form, letting it break beyond the upper edge of the canvas. I pay little attention to the size of this sun except in its relationship to the composition below it. My suns and moons are often out of proportion to reality but it doesn’t matter to me so long as it translates properly in the context of the painting. If  it works well,  it isn’t even noticed.

I finish blocking in the sky with the red oxide, radiating the strokes away from the sun,  and step back. [The video below basically begins at this point in the process] The piece has began to come alive for me and I can start to see where it is going. The color is starting to fill in in my mind and I can see a final version there. This is usually a very exciting time in the process for me, especially if a piece has a certain vitality. I sense it here and am propelled forward now, quickly attacking the sky with many, many brushstrokes of multiple colors. working from dark to light. 

There are layers of a violet color in different shades that are almost completely obscured by subsequent layers. I could probably leave out these violet layers but the tiny shards that do barely show add a great depth to the flavor of the painting for me and to leave them out would weaken the piece in a way. 

I have painted several hours on the sky now and still have a ways to go before it reaches where I see it in my mind. There are no shortcuts now. Just the process of getting to that final visualized point. But it’s dinnertime and my day is now done. I pick up and step back to give it one final look before I head out into the darkness. This is where the painting is at this point, where I will start soon after I post this:

GC Myers Process jan-2011-pt-2 In the blog post with the final version I then wrote:

Above is the tentatively finished version of the painting I started earlier this week, a 24″ by 48″ canvas that I am considering calling Escape Route. I showed the first few steps of the painting process on this blog two days ago, ending with the sky being near finished and the composition blocked in. I’m not going to go into all the steps and decisions that went into completing this piece. Instead, I put together a short film that shows the painting evolving to the finished product.

I will say that the final version is much different in many ways than I first envisioned with the first strokes of red oxide that went on the canvas. Each subsequent bit of color, each line that appeared, altered the vision in my head just a bit, evolving the piece constantly until the very end of the process. Even the last part, where I inserted the treeline that appears on the farthest ridge, was not seen in my mind until just before the decision to proceed with them was made. I decided to go with this treeline to create a final barrier for the road to break past on its way upward toward the sky. A final moment of escape.

This painting has given me a great sense of satisfaction after finishing it. I spent much of the late afternoon yesterday just looking at it and taking it in. I don’t know if it will translate as well on the computer screen but this piece has substantial size at 24″ by 48″ which gives great weight to the blocks of color from the buildings and the light from the sky. There is a sense of completeness here that I could  only struggle to explain, but as I said, brings me great satisfaction. I feel as though the evolved painting has exceeded what I imagined when I first started this piece. While I can’t fully explain that, it is all I can hope for from my work.

I will spend some more time over the next several weeks looking at this painting, determining if anything should be tweaked or altered.  A highlight added here, a line made crisper there. But as it stands, it feels as thought it has taken on its own life and I will probably leave it alone as it is.

 

991143 Escape Route 2011

And here’s the video, only about a minute long, that shows how the piece came about.

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One part of my show that opened Friday night (and continues to hang through the month and into July) at the Principle Gallery was the first public exhibition of the Multitudes series that consists of masses of faces. The response to these pieces was very strong, more than I had anticipated with a couple of the pieces finding new homes. I knew that the potential sales aspect of this series might take a bit of time at the start just to get viewers acclimated to the work. But  I wasn’t confronted by anyone who felt uneasy by them and that is a victory of sorts. At least, a good first step.

I was pleased with the way these pieces blended in with the more typical body of my work. I think that plays well into the idea that we are all prisms with multiple facets that are not visible to everyone at all times. While this work may not have been evident before, it was still there in place. As much a part of who I am as any other piece in the body of my work. Just a different aspect.

Below is a slideshow of the pieces at the show.

https://spark.adobe.com/video/zyiabQaWWtnmm

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