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Posts Tagged ‘Walt Whitman’

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….This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body….

—Walt Whitman, Preface to Leaves of Grass

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I have always been moved and inspired by the writings of the American poet Walt Whitman. I can find something that speaks directly to me in almost everything of his I come across. For me, he remains one of the most intriguing and unique characters in the American experience in so many ways.

This comes across in the photos of him, including the remarkable portrait above that was taken by the great American painter Thomas Eakins in 1891, a year before Whitman’s death. It has a remarkable feeling of earned wisdom and understanding.

I had always felt a familial bond with him anyway, having called him Uncle Walt for as long as I can remember. He seemed like he was the wise old uncle I wanted growing up, someone who watched over me and imparted bits of wizened advice to me from time to time. So with this great reverence for the man, you can imagine how excited I was when my genealogy revealed that we were related.

Not an uncle.

Cousins.

Okay, 6th cousins. We share a grandparent going back to the early 1600’s, five generation before Whitman and nine generations before me. So, that makes us 6th cousins, 5 generations removed.

That’s like being in the furthest reaches of relationship in the game of 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Sure, we’re related by these tenuous bonds but it is so far removed that it is academic at best. There are probably several hundred thousand, if not a million or more, people with this same bond. So it is certainly no big deal. Interesting but absolutely meaningless and without value.

But when I read a line from Whitman that makes my heart race a bit, that makes my brain and soul stir, I have to admit that it makes me happy that we share that silly, insignificant bond.

I just call him Cousin Walt now.

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I too am not a bit tamed,

I too am untranslatable,

I sound my barbaric yawp

over the roofs of the world.

 

-Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

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This new painting,a 24″ by 30″ canvas that is part of my upcoming show at the West End Gallery, is titled My Brisant Bellow. The term brisant bellow is one I have used in the past, my equivalent to Whitman’s barbaric yawp which comes from his Song of Myself in Leaves of Grass.

It is included in the four lines above that have been a guiding beacon for me throughout the past 25 years as I have tried to be an artist. These words instructed me to be only myself, to openly and boldly express my feelings without fear or shame. To not hide my scars, my fears or my weaknesses because they are part of my wholeness and keep me in balance. To not be underestimated or devalued by myself or anyone else. To claim a foothold in this world and bellow out the proof of my existence in my own voice:

Here I am.

There are paintings that I do that are meant to represent this thought, paintings that are meant to be plainly expressions of that Here I am. I consider them icons in my body of work, pieces that fully represent my work and what I want from it. This painting definitely falls in that category. It’s simply put but not a simple expression.

When I look at this painting I personally see myself and all my hopes and aspirations, all that I am or desire to be.

What I hope for this painting is that someone else sees that same here I am in it for themselves, that they see in it those things that make them a whole and perfectly imperfect person with a place in this world and a voice that demands to be heard.

Is that asking too much?

 

 

 

 

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GC MYers- The Untold Want smThis is another new painting headed to the Principle Gallery this weekend for my show there, Part of the Pattern, which opens next Friday, June 3.  This piece is 14″ by 34″ on paper and is titled , The Untold Want.  The title was taken from the title of a very short poem from Walt Whitman that contained the phrase that spawned and became the title of  the  Bette Davis movie,  Now, Voyager.

It’s a great film with a great cast, the kind of movie that could not be made today without becoming something other than what it was intended to be.  It’s the story of a young lady from a wealthy family who is hindered and defined by an overbearing mother.  She suffers until she meets a therapist (played by the great Claude Rains) who finds a way to let her break free and find her own definition of self.  To discover her own untold want.  He quotes the Whitman poem as she leaves his care.  He has given her the tools and she, the Voyager, must discover the world on her own.

There is a lot more to it than that, of course.  But I think that little synopsis captures what I see in this painting.  I see it as being about moving out into the wide world on one’s own terms, unafraid to show oneself as they truly are.  Visible for all to see, flaws and all, and ready to uncover all the mysteries that the world has to offer.

At least, that’s how I see this piece.  I like it, like the feel of it, like the color and tone of it.  It has a sturdiness and simplicity that I find appealing, like a piece of Craftsman furniture.

Here’s the poem:              

 The untold want, by life and land ne’er granted,  

Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.

-Walt Whitman, The Untold Want

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REMINDER: Engage Nepal

The clock is running on the event for the Soarway Foundation.  Every donation of $25 and above gets a signed poster like the one shown below as well as a chance to win a painting of mine valued at $5000.  This event ends June 6, 2016 so click on the Crowdrise link below or click here  to see how you can help and possibly win!

Soarway Poster -Engage Nepal

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walt-whitmanI’ve worn facial hair of some sort for the past twenty years and am used to seeing many people with beards.  I might even end up with a big white beard like Uncle Walt Whitman, as seen above, when I finally accept that the white hair I have is a true indicator of my age.  So a guy wearing a beard seems like no big deal, right?

Joseph Palmer  1789-1873 Harvard Worcester MAWell, it wasn’t always that way.

There was an interesting entry on the Anonymous Works  (a great site and blog featuring unique Folk art and other neat stuff– check it out!) Facebook page yesterday about a fellow named Joseph Palmer who lived in Worcester County, an area just west of Boston , Massachusetts from 1789 until his death in 1873.

Looking at his photo here on the right, his beard raises no offense to our modern sensibilities and he looks like an alright fellow.  In fact we might even think that with his big beard he looks like a typical man of his times.

Palmer Beard GraveThat was not the case.  Palmer’s beard was a source of great conflict throughout his life, to the point that when he died, it was the central theme of his wonderful gravestone in Worcester County, shown here on the left, that bears the words: Persecuted for wearing the beard.

Below are two entries that were on his listing on the Find A Grave website, another wonderful source of information, that tell his story.  The first is from a person listed as New York Historian.

Despite the conception that the past was a hairy wonderland of bearded outdoorsmen, bushy facial hair was long considered the mark of lunatics or worse, heretics. Today there is a Massachusetts gravestone that still remembers one man’s heroic fight against the forces of anti-hirsute vigilantes and a whole town’s persecution against his epic mane.


A veteran of the War of 1812, Joseph Palmer began wearing a beard in the 1820s. Beards had gone out of style in the 1720s, and Palmer was considered by most all in his small town to be slovenly and ungodly. He was even criticized by his local preacher for communing with the devil, famously responding to the accusation, “…if I remember correctly, Jesus wore a beard not unlike mine.”


In May of 1830, Palmer was attacked by four men outside of a hotel in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Armed with razors and scissors, the men attempted to forcibly shave Palmer’s face, but the bewhiskered man stabbed two of his attackers with a pocketknife, and was subsequently arrested for assault. He could have avoided jail by paying a fine and court fees, but Palmer refused, maintaining his innocence, and more importantly his right to a glorious beard. He was subsequently jailed for 15 months, including time in solitary confinement.


Upon leaving prison, Palmer joined the Fruitlands utopian community in nearby Harvard, Massachusetts after being influenced by his friendship with fellow Fruitlander, Louisa May Alcott. The character Moses White from Alcott’s “Transcendental Wild Oats” is later based on Palmer. Palmer died in 1865 and his tombstone displays a portrait of him with a long beard, and as a final act of rebellion, the inscription, “Persecuted for Wearing the Beard.

The other entry:

Joseph Palmer was a veteran of the War of 1812 who later joined the Fruitlands commune in Harvard, Mass. started by Amos Bronson Alcott, Charles Lane and other Transcendentalists in the 1840s.

Palmer wore a full beard, which was very much out of fashion since Colonial times. He was the only man in Fitchburg, Mass. with a full beard when he moved there in 1830. He was so reviled for doing so that people would throw stones at him and break the windows of his house. His pastor refused him Communion. In 1830 he was jumped by four men who threw down and attempted to forcibly shave him. In the process of defending himself, Palmer stabbed two of the men. Palmer was charged for committing an unprovoked assault and was fined, which he refused to pay on principle. He was jailed in the Worcester city jail for non-payment and the prison guards and other prisoners also attempted to shave off his beard by force. After much bad publicity in the press he was to be released, but Palmer refused to leave the prison unless he could receive a proclamation that it was perfectly acceptable to wear a beard. No such proclamation was forthcoming and Palmer was forcibly removed from the prison by being tied to a chair and carried out. Palmer became a celebrity and worked for the Temperance and Abolitionist movements. He appears as the character Moses White in Louisa May Alcott’s story “Transcendental Wild Oats.”

His grave in Evergreen Cemetery has a likeness of his bearded face with the inscription “Persecuted for wearing the beard.”

The intolerance we see today seems ridiculous but it seems that although we pride ourselves as a nation of freedom and crow constantly about our personal rights and liberties, we have always been pretty quick to tell others how they should look, act and live their lives.  Hats off to Joseph Palmer for holding fast to his wearing of the beard.

 

 

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GC Myers-Ode to Whitman Orphans is the word I use to describe the paintings that don’t find a home.  I’ve been fortunate in my career that there haven’t really been that many so that the ones that do keep coming back to me take on a special significance, especially the ones that I felt were somehow special beforehand.  It may be the extra time I get to spend with them, examining them again and again to see if there is some inherent flaw or lack of fire that keeps someone from making it their own, that gives it this significance.  I spend much more time with these orphans than those paintings that quickly find a home.

Ode to Whitman is such an orphan, it being a piece has toured the country and has yet to find a home.  It saddens me a bit when I look at this painting because I do see the spirit of Walt Whitman in this piece, at least as he translates into my own psyche.  Though quiet in nature, the Red Tree here is celebrating its very being and could be embodying Whitman’s verse:

I too am not a bit tamed,

I too am untranslatable,

I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

These were words that were very influential in the formation of my artistic voice.  They dared me to stand apart.  They challenged me to reveal my inner self to the world, to let my light shine.  To let my yawp go free.

And that is what I see in this  piece.  It as though once the yawp has been released, even as the surrounding trees seem to be recoiling from its sound and fury, a placid pall has come into the center of its being.  It is calm now that it knows who it is, what it is.

As you can tell, I see and feel a lot in this simple painting.  I guess that is why it pulls at me to think of it as orphan.  That’s why I am going to give this piece a home and this is going to be the painting that will be given away at the Gallery Talk this coming Saturday at the Principle Gallery, which starts at 1 PM.  I know that it will find a good home in this way because someone who didn’t like my work would not spend an hour of their time listening to me talk about it.

So I hope you can make it  to the talk and that, if you’re the one who takes Ode to Whitman home , you realize the feeling that it carries with it.

Here’s another bit of Whitman that like, from the preface to his landmark Leaves of Grass:

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

 

 

 

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“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.

It is not far, It is within reach,
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know,
Perhaps it is every where on water and land.”

–Walt Whitman- Part of Song of Myself from Leaves of Grass. 1855

Walt Whitman-  Thomas Eakins 1891

I’m in a bit of a hurry but really wanted to show this great photo of Walt Whitman.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photo of him that wasn’t interesting but this one is special.  It’s taken by the great American painter Thomas Eakins in 1891, a year before Whitman’s death in 1892.  Eakins was also a pioneer in the use of photography in the art studio and an innovator in motion studies with film, among many other things.  I plan on writing more about his remarkable career in the future.  But for now, I just wanted to show this simple elegant photo of America’s voice.  At least to my ears.

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Just a small piece on paper that I recently finished that I call Impassionata for what I think are obvious reasons.  It seems a bit darker on my computer screen at the moment than it does on the easel where I photograph so  it may require a new shot but for the present time this image will have to do.

This is a simple painting, one that is typical of my work.  There’s a nice combination of elements in this painting that make it feel deeper than its composition including a sense of depth into the picture even though there is nothing in the background to give perspective.  Perhaps it’s the gradation of the colors in the sky or the contrast between the deep red of the foreground and the bright yellow edge of the lit horizon.  To tell you the truth, I don’t really know myself.  The same composition with just a tweak here and there in color and texture would feel much different.

It’s a funny thing how a piece whose subject is so similar to many other pieces in  my body of work can still excite me.  I’ve often said that the subject matter really isn’t the focus of my work, that the passion for me comes from the color, form and texture.  The subject is merely a hand  extended outward to others to invite them in.   Many people may only focus on the subject before they realize they are really responding to these other elements that I mention. 

Well, at least that’s one theory.  It may change before the morning ends.  I reserve the right to contradict myself.  As Whitman wrote:  Do I contradict myself?  Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.

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