Gary Myers is an artist whose work I admire and whose blog I’ve followed for several years. He lives just north of Elmira, New York, in the memorably-named town of Horseheads. His paintings, recognizable, unique and strangely stirring, have hung in such galleries as the West End in Corning, New York, the Principle in Alexandria, Virginia and the The Haen in Asheville, North Carolina.
A museum exhibition titled Internal Landscapes: The Paintings of GC Myers, officially opened at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York on August 18. Continuing through December 31, the show groups together larger paintings from the last few years with a few very early small pieces that represent the beginnings of his work. A highlight at the Fenimore is the first public showing of The Internal Landscape, a painting whose progress readers of Gary’s blog were able to follow.
Several themes in his work intrigue me, particularly his rich, mola-like hillsides and pastures and his unique portrayal of the “archaeological foundations” of our lives. But he’s best known for his Red Trees and Red Chairs, his most immediately accessible and perhaps most strangely evocative symbols.
While putting together a new show that opens at The Kada Gallery in Erie, Pennsylvania on October 20th, he selected Inward Bound as its title. Inward Bound also is the title of a new painting, a smaller (4″ x 7″) piece done on paper .
Myers affirms the title as a reference to an inner voyage of discovery. Facing away from the world, away from the moon and stars which guided past journeys across seas and continents, The Red Chair has been turned inward, inviting contemplation of qualities which can be found only within ourselves.
While noting the extraordinary difficulty of the journey, he goes on to say that, “the rewards can be priceless. For some it is wisdom, a calmness seated in the knowledge that they are completely at ease with who and where they are, inside and out. That’s what I see in this simple, small painting.”
Another painting destined for the Kada show was introduced to Gary’s blog readers on September 25. Still untitled, it had a special purpose. Readers were invited to submit their own title for the piece. While each of the suggested titles would be placed on the back of the painting and become part of its history, the winning title would be featured at the exhibition and earn a prize for its creator.
When I saw the painting, a title came to me immediately. After three slight revisions, I emailed my entry and thought little more about it until, to my utter astonishment, Gary selected my Shedding Daylight as the title for his piece.
Certainly I delight in knowing that Shedding Daylight will be admired at the Kada Gallery, and of course the honor of it all would have been quite enough, but other surprises were in store. When I received my prize, it included the promised copy of Gary’s book, nicely inscribed, and much more: a bookmark from the Fenimore showing his painting Up Through the Lakes, a collection of note cards that includes one of my favorites from 2010 called Raise Your Eyes and – wonder of wonders! – a small painting bearing the title Inspiration. It’s living now just to the right of my computer desk, where I easily can see it whenever I need a little – well, inspiration.
For some time I’ve wished I could visit one of Gary’s exhibits to see his paintings as they should be seen – in person. Now, I have a bit of his canvas, his paint and his vision right here beside me – a lovely kind of inspiration and an affirmation that, when I finally get to one of his shows, it will be everything I’ve imagined.
The Genesis of Shedding Daylight, the Title
I’m fond of cemeteries, and one of my favorites is tucked into a corner of League City. Fairview Cemetery isn’t as “pretty” as some, but it’s interesting because of the history it contains. The first burial in Fairview was Charlotte “Lottie” Natho, a nine-year-old girl who died from diphtheria following the Great Storm of 1900.
Eighteen known Civil War veterans are buried there; half were Union and half Confederate. Three of the Confederate veterans – John Henry Kipp, John William Derrick and John Daniel Owens – were members of the Magnolia Rangers, a Company formed on January 17, 1861 from men living in Galveston and Harris counties. One of the earliest Texas Confederate Units, it accompanied Colonel John Ford south to Brazos Santiago to capture Ft. Brown – a journey that could have resulted in their meeting my great-great-grandfather, whose 34th Iowa Regiment also fought at Brazos Santiago.
Wandering the cemetery late one afternoon, imagining the possibility that some who are buried there encountered one of my ancestors, I found myself standing in front of a sturdy tree. It had a somewhat less sturdy chair propped next to it and I couldn’t help laughing. It looked like a down-home version of the concrete benches scattered around the cemetery. Had it been a favorite of someone buried nearby? Was it there to allow family members to take their ease while they chatted with the dearly-departed? Or was it simply meant as a reminder of simpler days, when the invitation to “C’mon over here and set a spell” rarely was refused?
Looking at the chair, I remembered a comment my mother made years ago, on a visit to a different cemetery. Wandering and reminiscing among the gravestones of her friends she said, “Dylan Thomas was wrong.” Only half-listening, I said, “What?” “That poem he wrote. The one they made you memorize when you were in school. The one about being mad about dying. He was wrong about that.”
Of course she meant Thomas’ famous villanelle, Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night. A beautiful example of the poetic form and certainly his best-known verse, its title begins the poem.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Required only to memorize the words, I learned little of Thomas, his father, or the struggles and frustrations which influenced the poem. I did know the world around me appeared rich and inviting, filled with possibility. If old age meant the loss of that world, rage seemed a perfectly reasonable response.
Over the years, my understanding of the seasons of life began to change. However wonderous Spring’s delicate beauty, no matter how verdant and rich the bounty of summer, I began to grow more accepting of that exquisite, mid-Winter bleakness. And though every bare-branched tree stood as a memento mori, a reminder of the darkness to come, I found it extraordinary that, through days of slowly encroaching darkness and nights of gentle loss, Autumn refused to rage against the thin and dying light.
In her latter years, my mother became as fragile as an autumn leaf. Her translucent hands trembled as though stirred by some mysterious breeze, and her once-vibrant color began to fade as her connection to the world grew more tenuous.
Tired after seasons of growth, spent from a lifetime of production, ready at last for rest and release, she often would laze in the fading afternoon light, peaceful as a silent wood. “What are you doing?” I’d ask. “Waiting,” she said. “Why don’t you come and sit for a while?” I understood her meaning, and I sat.
Looking now at the Red Chair, cobwebbed and empty beneath its tree, I remember a simple chair tucked beneath a cemetery oak and my own daylight-weary mother, seated and gazing toward the horizon. However well or poorly spent her life, she felt no need for rage as the end approached, no compulsion to “rave and burn at close of day”. Her way of of leave-taking, quiet as a falling leaf and gentle as the day’s last light, required nothing more than a chair and companionship. Now, her “other way” has been joined with a marvelous painting. I think she’d be pleased.
Slipping gently toward that good night
the body rests while fears take flight.
The spirit turns, then sighs away
entreaties meant to bid it stay –
shedding sorrow, shedding tears,
Shedding daylight, shedding years.