Monday, December 29, 2008

Cave Paintings and Rock Art

This week I am working on a 20 x 24 vertical Saguaro landscape with blooming paloverdes in the distance. I'm also busy organizing the advertisements, invitations, and the special online exhibits that will go along with my January 16th show at the Max Gallery in Tucson. I hope everyone has had a wonderful holiday season, and we look forward to a happy and fruitful 2009. This coming year will see the birth of my son, in March - and on top of all the great things that have come to pass for my wife and I, we are the MOST excited about this little man who is soon to come into our lives.

I'm currently reading a book by Gregory Curtis called "The Cave Painters, Probing the Mysteries of the World's First Artists". This is a study of the primitive arts that existed in the Paleolithic era of early man. The books spends a great deal of time talking about world landmarks such as Lascaux, the beautiful painted cave in France that features the "Hall of Bulls", which I myself painted a rendering of last year. I've always been deeply fascinated by art of this kind, and only recently did a begin to ask myself why.

There is always in me a great love and respect of the primitive. That is to say - what art would be without any social conventions or training. Paul Gauguin sought such a place where he could establish his vision of art free of western social norms, in a raw, primitive environment. Picasso, after mastering representational painting by the age of 14, spent much of the rest of his life in a process of exploration that involved some drastic simplifications, and complexities, that strayed far from his classical training - and resulted in, at least on some of his canvases, very primitive works. Picasso had a great fascination with masks - and some of the Fauvist painters looked to African crafts for inspiration in the qualities of simplicity.

I think that I respect the primitive works on some level due to my own lack of training in the arts. I took one drawing class in college and absolutely hated it. Drawing was something I enjoyed all my life, even as a small boy - and to have the act reduced to something the professor wanted to see led me to the conclusion that most art professors want artists that will just paint or draw like them. They see themselves as an ideal, and thus seek to conform others to it. I dare say not all fall into this category, but I'm sure many do.

It seems to me that primitive artists very likely didn't have the hangups that come with the rigid formulations of training. None the less, many of them displayed a great deal of talent - the ability to render colors and shapes impressively, and the ability to have an eye for composition and perspective. That is what appeals to me on canvas. The seeking of something raw and beautiful - rough and luminous at the same time. I enjoy a perfect Michelangelo or Leonardo as much as the next guy - but it never gets to the root of my own artistic feeling. My feeling in front of the canvas is a feeling that is hard and rough. My work shows it, and that's certainly deliberate.

So when I discovered through books the wonderful painted caves of France I immediately felt a connection rooted from those early artists and running right up to contemporary painters like myself. I painted a large wall-sized work called "The Dawn of Painting" which depicts one scene from the Hall of Bulls at Lascaux. I've never shown the painting outside of my home, but countless friends have commented on it. It has simply my homage to those wonderful early artists whose works still survive.

I feel it is crucial to the artist to get down to the core of what art could be - art with no hangups or framework. To answer the question of what the soul would put on canvas before it asked the permission of a professor or classicist to feel what it is feeling. An honest urge - a true expression. The cave painters did not need a university or art school to make compelling images, they just did it. Let art be as natural as the rain. Let it speak in honest ways. Drop the filters and see the uncut version. That is the language of the human heart. The cages came after.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Music, Art, and Originality

This week I have just finished my first painting of Aspens in yellow fall colors. I am now working on 20 x 24 inch study of the mountain peaks of the Grand Tetons. Having finished most of the Arizona works for my show on January 16th, I am letting loose with the urge to paint some other western subjects that I love.

I remember my French professor Dr Augustin Quilici relaying to me the phrase "le style est l'homme" (the style is the man), and as we can assume that this is always the case in art - I found myself thinking of how much it is also true in music. In the art I have tried to make, I have attempted to create painting that would be unmistakeably my own - that there would be no debate over who made them. It was very important to me not to have my work confused with anyone else's. In the years that I have been browsing galleries I have come to the conclusion that it is easier to be a strong draftsman and absorb the talents brought out by artistic training - than it is to have an original idea and relay that idea on canvas. That is to say, I think more people can draw and paint, than can dream something truly original. And even that depends on what one wants from painting. Some artists are hyper realists, and they get the most happiness from that.

It should also be remembered that nobody who is successful is without their roots. My own roots lie tangled between the work of Jean-Claude Quilici, Vincent Van Gogh, and Maurice de Vlaminck. That is to say, your own original ideas are built on the foundation of the discoveries of those you admire. My breakthrough was to try to apply a certain vision to the Southwest that I had not yet seen. But these ideas came from a fusion of those who inspired me.

For many years music helped me to understand the qualities of distinction that were necessary in a work of art. It occurred to me frequently that songs live by their quality of distinctness - how they stand out from a background of noise and jingles. I remember hearing an NPR interview with a Canadian singer / songwriter Justin Rutledge, and they played a clip from one of his songs where the line goes "They've got armchairs in Vienna, where a man would wanna die. They've got Ludwig Van in garbage cans where the poets go to cry..." and I thought "whoa!" I still remember where I was driving when those words struck me. They stood out as more poetic, more rich, perhaps even a little strange when you consider all the pop jingles and do da do da stuff that gets shuffled around today. It was poetry in music. I became an instant fan because I realized that Justin Rutledge had done in music what I will have hoped to have done in art. That is when you hear Justin's music, you know it. I would hope that when you see a Neil Myers - you know it.

I remember Jim Morrison saying that "the doors is just a white blues band". But even as he seemed to try to find a label for the Doors, it seems they defy anything even he might say. Amazing lyrics, powerful stage performances - a deep sense of drama and a poetry of the times. Unorthodox views of how a song should be created - one of the most distinct aspects being the way that Doors music was held together by Ray Manzerek's keyboards, giving the music the quality of organ like processional - dark and lyrical.

I would also rank KISS as one of the most original super groups ever devised. Take one look at those guys and it's not hard to see that they hit on something different. No doubt about that. But if KISS had only been about 4 goons in makeup, then it would not have lasted. Those same guys proved the ability to put on an astounding rock show, and they had the near infinite capacity to write dozens of songs that are now part of our rock lexicon. I got to see the original KISS in 1996 in Charlotte, NC, so I have seen this for myself and will vouch for it.

What's interesting in music today is that the most original artists are often on independent labels, because the larger labels have become so risk aversive, indie labels are almost all that's left. American music is too much industry and too little art, that's the reason we've not had a KISS, or Beatles, or Led Zeppelin emerge in the last number of years. Because the value of an original idea in music is lower now than it was in the 60s and 70s.

But I still have my Will Hoge, Justin Rutledge, Deanna Johnston, Kathleen Edwards, Drive by Truckers, and countless others to inspire me as I paint. They paint with chords, but to me they are all full of color.

Friday, November 14, 2008

"Support the Arts, Buy a Painting"

This week I am working on a variety of small paintings, 8 x 10s and one 5 x 7 inch landscape. I have been telling friends that every vision for a painting that I've had in my head recently has been huge - and that I had set myself the contrary challenge of trying to do high quality small works, with all the feel of my large ones.

This week I have found myself thinking a great deal about something Jon Linton, the publisher of "Artbook of the New West" has frequently said; "Support the Arts, Buy a Painting." Jon would sign off his publisher's column in the magazine with that phrase - and perhaps it has been token phrase before the current economic crisis in America, but now it is becoming a question of survival for American artists.

Frequently I am hearing the alarm bells from all corners. Galleries struggling to make rent, buyers very hesitant. When purchases are made clients are going for small works or small handcrafted items. And it seems that the current situation in America is not just news, it is real and true economic reality, with many fine arts galleries feeling the pinch, many artists feeling the flattening sales climate, and I have been reading that even high end auctions houses such as Sothebys have been seeing works by historic masters go unsold, or be sold for much less than previously expected.

I know in the past when thanking collectors for their purchases I have said "art is not bread", in the sense that I know how fortunate a situation it is to have the luxury of enjoying fine paintings. In a situation like we now find ourselves in, most normal people will resign themselves to thinking about the basics, food, gas, insurance - the essentials. And something like art is sometimes seen as an optional commodity.

But as I have continued reading about the U.S. government's efforts to bail out our struggling banks and industries, I found myself remembering a visit to San Francisco in 2006. While my wife and I were there, we visited the historic Coit tower, and saw the amazing murals created by artists employed by the WPA. Beautiful murals, painted in the spirit and style of Diego Rivera, but exhibiting themes of America and California. And I know that when I thought about these murals later, and learned that the WPA had employed lots of artists on projects around the country, I was nearly reduced to tears. I told my wife "in the worst of times, the WPA did not forget the nation's artists." I wonder today if any national recovery programs will include the country's artists. I'm not sure that the public and political attention span would even take the time to remember the great works of the WPA artists. Or does today's generation even know?

But now, as I have some tinge of fear for what may become of American arts during the economic troubles - I think perhaps I was IS bread. It is possible that it is a luxury that we give little thought to when times are good. We partake, buy a painting or a sculpture, sometimes without fully realizing the contribution of artists to the culture and richness of the human experience. Yes, art IS essential. It is perhaps most essential at the times when it is in danger of being marginalized. When we are all worried about the state of things, art is also a great consolation on the story of the human experience, the love of nature, and the wonders of being alive in the world.

So I will end with the phrase I've borrowed from Jon Linton: "Support the arts, buy a painting."

Buy the bread. Buy the groceries. Put the gas in the car and pay the power bill. Take care of the family and do what you have to do. But if you are ok, and if you are able, NEVER forget that blank wall in your home that cries out for a great vision.

My sincere thanks to all my friends and collectors for their support!

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Beast of Abstraction

This week I am working on a large 38 x 48 in. painting of a row of cliffs at the Grand Canyon. It has been a helluva stretch to complete - I've always thought that the Grand Canyon was one of the hardest subjects in American landscape painting to do. It is a terribly beautiful and complicated arrangement of shapes and colors, and believe me, if you haven't seen it, I urge you to make a point to see this amazing natural wonder in your lifetime.

Ever since visiting New York City a couple of months ago, I've been thinking a great deal about abstract painting. Seeing some of the great works of Pollock, DeKooning, and Rothko was a special treat, but then I noticed something a little disturbing; for example when you visit the modern art wing of the National Gallery in Washington D.C., you'll see that it is one of the emptiest areas of the museum. After going there last year, and again this year, my wife was joking to me that it seemed cruel that they wouldn't let the security guards in those areas of the museum have ipods to break the boredom. I alone wandered through large rooms glowing with canvases by Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Styll, Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, and many others - and frequently I was the only one in the galleries. And that got me to questioning the value of art which is so strange that it, by it's very nature, alienates those it depends on for communication and meaning. What can a painter say of his or her work if they are an abstract artist, and their galleries get 3 visitors for every 50 the Impressionists attract?
Lots of questions follow. We'll, I ask myself, do I not understand the work? Do I not have the equipment? We'll I don't buy that exactly. If I or other people perhaps don't have the mental acuity to understand abstract work, then it may require interpretation from a 3rd party for us to reach some clarity regarding the work. And here is the biggie - if it requires interpretation, has it not failed it's goal of one to one visual communication?

Well, perhaps the best we can say about this is sometimes. Sometimes I, and perhaps others, have felt that we understood an abstract piece without some pince-nez scholar telling us what we should take away from the painting. I have always felt this about Pollock and his work. I never really needed anything from anyone to get Pollock. I felt all his power, his disturbances, his violence, and his eloquent beauty without ever hearing a lecture or art talk. However I puzzled for a long time over the work of Mark Rothko. With effort I did manage to get into the idea of his works, but they ask a lot of the viewer, and the connection from artist to viewer is a tenuous one.

We can surely say that what is popular in the creative arts is not always deeply meaningful. I don't think that you'll find anyone ready to put Miley Cyrus on the same level as Bob Dylan. However if something is so hard to understand that it impacts almost nobody - then can you call it good art or not? Again, sometimes. If further examination leads you to new horizons of feeling then the argument could be made that the art is effective. However I am convinced that many pure abstractionists are reveling in one thing - and one thing only - strangeness. Strangeness gets even harder to handle when there are no visual cues for the viewer to process. And then when the bulk of the viewing public walk away going "what the hell was that...?" then many such artists will feel confirmed in their originality, assured that they have confounded the average Joe on the street. I don't buy this at all. Because I know of countless artists who have very original styles and who are very popular. My mentor Quilici is one. Picasso was another. The question was floated during Jackson Pollock's lifetime "Is he the greatest living painter in America?" That alone was a huge creative compliment.

At the same time I was experiencing the empty abstract galleries in Washington D.C., I noticed the huge crowds flocking close to see original works of the Impressionists. That too set me to thinking - what was it about the Impressionists that still captivate audiences in 2008? I think that the answer had something to do with the photographic camera. That instrument had been invented in the years leading up to the arrival of the Impressionists, and many of them rightly deduced that if you wanted a perfect replication of a person or landscape - then the camera could do that - in black and white at least. So the Impressionists sought ways to personally express their own touch when painting an object, and their respective styles resulted in images that were joyfully painted, with the styles of the individual artists - but which didn't replicate perfect classical reality. So then, as it is today, people are greatly comforted by the Impressionists because they still know what they are looking at, but they still feel the expressions and color usage that were particular to each artist. In D.C. I saw groups of schoolkids, 7 or 8 years old, congregating in a room full of Monets. They clearly enjoyed them - as did the adults. And I saw no such cross section of people visiting the abstract artists.

Every artist has the free right to push painting or art in general in any direction they choose. However the viewing public has a right not to go with the artist on such tangents. And if I were to sound one warning - as I declare myself an admirer of at least SOME abstract artists - it would be to honestly say to them "don't project unreasonable expectations on the viewer of your work." The deeper one gets into strangeness, with nothing recognizable on the canvas and with no dispensation to care about artistic beauty - one may expect fewer viewers. One should never behave as if the viewers decide the works FOR the artist - however one should neither behave as if the viewer is irrelevant.

I've heard it said that some artists bristle at the insinuation that their work should be beautiful...I don't feel that way at all. I think beauty is a wonderful aspiration. That is my soul's release when I look at art. Because, hey, if I want to feel bad, I can always turn on the news instead.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

For the Love of New York

This week I am working on a new Sunflowers painting commissioned by a local writer. For the past few months, after initially painting a previous Sunflowers work, I have been wrestling with myself mentally about how to tackle anew the idea of still life painting. When I initially completed the piece simply titled "Sunflowers" about a month ago, the response was overwhelming among those who visited my site, and the painting was quickly sold. Last night as my wife and I talked, I mentioned to her that both my recent Sunflowers paintings are spoken for, meaning I may need to a THIRD one to have one to show this fall. A good problem to have, for sure!

Last week I had the good fortune of going back east to visit New York City. It was the first time that I had been there, and I was looking forward to it if only for the museums and the many chances to see great art. Thankfully, during our quick visit we managed to see the MOMA, the Met, and the Guggenheim. The highlight for me was the Met, which I would rank among the finest large American museums. Whereas most collections may have 5 or 6 or a painter you like, the Met had 8, 10, or more. It was overkill in a good way, and a wonderful chance to charge the batteries while trying to absorb how the masters I admire tackled still life painting. While visiting I was riveted to a vertical Van Gogh canvas of white roses on a green background - and just nearby, another lovely Monet of Chrysanthemums. While looking at these I came to the conclusion that still life didn't necessarily need to be reinvented. It's one of the oldest genres of painting - and when people liked my sunflowers, I suspect they didn't like them because they were earth shatteringly original - but rather than they felt they were beautiful and interesting. The masters didn't seem to have reinvented the wheel, so perhaps neither should I.

But the most striking thing you take away from New York City is the impressions you have of the city itself. It is a big, crazy, wild, busy monolith of a city that has forever played an integral role in American identity as a nation. I was telling friends that at street level, the city didn't seem gargantuan - if you didn't look up. The moment you looked up you realized how crushing the skyline is, how massive and towering the verticals are. I remembered reading years ago that one of the only reasons that such large skyscrapers could be built on Manhattan Island is because of an extremely strong bedrock of granite below the surface of the soil on the island - and if you visit central park, as my wife and I did several times, you see giant granite slabs projecting up through the trees and grass - exactly as had been described to me in books.

Central Park is one of the great places to people-watch - a kind of meeting point for a cross section of the city. Everyone from bums to millionaires to professionals to upper east side nannies taking kids out for a stroll. The park is a nexus for the city, and I think that it was an amazing piece of foresight that the early founders of New York saw to make such a place, where citizens of the ultra-metropolis could temporarily get back the feeling that all people need from time to time - the feeling of trees over their head, leaves on the ground - the reflections of willows on the water, such as you see at Bow Bridge in the park. We had lunch there on a bench and listened to an accordion player - a memory I'll always treasure.

Artistically, New York City makes you want to go straight out and buy a large stack of vertical canvases and get straight to work! Then you come to the conclusion that even that would not do - that the results would only be a snapshot. In fact, you'd need a canvas the size of a barn wall to convey the immense weight and size of the New York skyline. Few painters, in my opinion, have come close to rendering the shapes and immensity of New York in such ways as to parallel how you feel when you are there. Painting the city is such an task that we all feel we'd like to try it, because it is visually so impressive and huge.

Another thing that doesn't seem to get mentioned is the wonderful individuality of the different areas of the city. The cool thing about the city is that countless ethnic, religious, and national groups have settled there, and their quarters often reflect those who live in them. Chinatown, Little Italy, being among the foremost that I visited. But there is more to it than that. The upper east side of the city feels entirely different than the upper west side. Greenwich Village feels different than Soho. Downtown feels different than them all. Midtown the same. And one surprise is the way that the city feels quite small when you are on the side streets in these enclaves. Sometimes it's even very quiet and peaceful. I think of lot of our views of the city have to do with waves of thousands passing up and down the sidewalks of fifth avenue, and downtown - but the city is by no means like that in every corner.

What was most impressive about it was that being in New York City was like looking in a mirror - that this kid with his roots in small town North Carolina could feel so happy and comfortable with being in New York, it really showed me how far a person can come, the amazing things that they can see, and the surprising places you can love - in defiance of your roots or the expectations of others. Travel is the great antidote for static life - and it is the one thing that keeps us sane and able to break free from routines that are exhausting. I always liked that quote from the movie American Beauty, where the narrator says "It's amazing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself..." Places can have the same effect.

I didn't get the t-shirt that says "I Love New York", but it sure makes a lot more sense now.

Visit Neil's official website at:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Struggle in the Mind of the Artist

This week I am working on a large 30 x 48 inch panoramic painting of the three main peaks of Pusch Ridge, in the Catalina Mountains. I've painted fragments of this scene before, and I'm happy to have finally gotten an image that encompasses the entire mass of the mountain ridge, with all its rocky outcrops and escarpments.

As I was just finishing the brilliant book "The Yellow House, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Provence", I found myself thinking yet again on this image that so many people have of the artist in desperate struggle in his or her own mind. This book detailed the brief and stormy period that the painters Van Gogh and Gauguin lived and worked together in Van Gogh's famous "Yellow House" in Arles, France in 1888. This clash of very volitile artistic personalities was one of the contributing factors in Van Gogh's breakdown and infamous slashing off of his own ear. It got me to thinking about how, especially in America, the artist is so often viewed as someone outside of society - and on many occasions, a good-for-nothing or self indulgent person. In Henry Miller's book "The Air Conditioned Nightmare" he said that a "corn fed hog has a better life than an artist in America."

Van Gogh was not the only artist to suffer from mental illness, countless other artists have battled addiction and all kinds of other excesses. Jackson Pollock, the celebrated American Abstract Expressionist struggled for years with alcoholism and after bouts of being on and off the bottle, finally died in a car crash after drinking. The more one learns about Pollock the more it becomes evident that he was deeply disturbed, and it is very likely that he drank as he did to calm the doubts he had in his mind, about himself and his place in the world. The artist Modigliani, who also had a short life, had been weekend physically by childhood illnesses, yet still deeply indulged in drinking and drugs. His brief life ended in Paris at the age of 35. Van Gogh died in Auvers at the age of 37. Pollock died at 44. Jean-Michel Basquiat died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27, after a brief but highly successful art career. If we look across at the sad musical extinctions of 1970 and 1971, we see the legendary names of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison all dead at the age of 27. In 1994 Kurt Cobain, front man of the hugely popular band Nirvana, died of a self inflicted gunshot wound. He was also 27.

Of course many artists lead long, productive lives - and our culture in arts and music is all the more better for the experiences and creativity of our venerated elders. But I find myself wondering, what is it really about - for those people who find the act of creating to be both soothing, and too much - at the same time?

I suspect that most of it has to do with the innate inwardness of an artist. I've often told people that the difficult part of being an artist is the fact that there exists no mould on your own creativity. Unlike working in an office, or most any job - there is no set format for being an artist. What is created is created out of the artist himself. It is wrenched out, sometimes with great difficulty, and brought into being with no prior existing format. So for an artist it is something like giving birth, hundreds and hundreds of times over again, but pulling out of your soul images, songs, poems, and books. You are the catalyst. You are also the person to blame if it doesn't work, or if the results are weak. The artistic equivalent of workplace accountability is nothing more than a good, hard look in the mirror.

I think that when artists become self destructive and prone to drink and drugs, what is usually happening is that the person simply can't bear the weight of doubt that results from this 'good, hard look in the mirror'. That the only way that the pain of not accomplishing great acts of creation can be dulled is through a temporary dulling of the senses. For some artists, or for some addictive personalities in general, the dulling of the senses becomes more important than the act of working and creating, and it is perhaps that kind of self destructive artist that sees his or her life shortened, and the world robbed of their contributions. (I exempt Van Gogh from this distinction, as it is apparent that he suffered from a grave mental illness.)

Therein lies the irony, I think. That even artists like myself understand why it is that the act of creating is both exhilarating and crushing at the same time - and that it is probably true that the only way to calm doubts is by numbing the senses. But even as much as I have sympathy for those artists who died in a martyr-like fashion - I also realize that at some point, self control and reasonableness must kick in. That if you love your work, you must preserve the body and mind that MUST be healthy to create it. Ultimately, for all but the most seriously mentally ill artists -the abandonment of work in the whiteout of drugs and alcohol is just that - the choice of numbness over the sensation of work.

So if we love our work, we must resolve to stick around to make it. And the longer I live, the less I believe in the vision of a young, dead artistic martyr. I think there is dignity in a long life of creation, such as have been lived by figures such as Monet, Renoir, and DeKooning. Dignity in the challenges of continually confronting the act of making paintings as you get older. Then, at least, when your time does come to check out - you will have, in fact, made a long and fruitful contribution to the younger artists that come after - in the hopes that they too will keep their senses, and live long and create beautifully.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Real Triumph of Vincent Van Gogh

This week I am busy working on two paintings, one of the mission church at Chimayo, New Mexico, and another large commissioned piece of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The thick layering process that my works go through often involves setting one aside in favor of another so that a dry surface can set up and I can later go back over the top of it without cutting into the paint.

I am very excited to now have paintings in the Taos Fine Art Gallery in Taos, NM. This is a beautiful gallery right in the center of Taos, featuring a wide range of artists from contemporary to classic. One painting from the group of 8 works originally taken to Taos has already sold, and we're certainly hoping for a good summer season there.

I've recently been thinking a great deal about the life and work of Vincent Van Gogh. It occurs to me that I believe what dominates his persona are the twin perceptions his difficult life and his work. I think perhaps that art lovers have been far too consumed with the idea of the "peintre maudit", who lives and suffers for their work. This is, of course, quite true for many artists like Van Gogh and Modigliani - but this is not the extent of it and nor should it be. What has always struck me as amazing about Van Gogh was not that all of his works were masterpieces - clearly I think that he did some very poor quality works - but that there are enough masterpieces in his collection that we should be humbled most by the fact that he managed an astounding output of work while battling hopeless despair, mental illness, and terrible luck in love. That somewhere, when the entire world was spinning around him, he was able to find a quiet spot of optimism to create and thrive in. Later, while battling what many believed was epilepsy combined with other psychological disorders - he managed to go on working in his lucid periods, and create, even in the confines of an insane asylum - true masterpieces like the "Irises" at St Remy.

So shouldn't it be better said that he accomplished all that he did in spite of his despair and illness? Yes, I believe so. I think that the man shone through best through his work and his letters, and the picture that emerges is a person of great tenderness, of deep, sharp intelligence and sense of purpose - and someone who must have had a great deal of physical strength and endurance to spend years of hardship, often without sufficient food or self care - surviving on coffee at some points and scrimping on food in order that he could buy paint.

I think that is should also be better known that Van Gogh did not die unknown. In fact it is probably more fair to say that he died on the cusp of becoming known. He had had a critical article written by Aurier who praised him immensely. He had the respect of many of his fellow artists - notably Pissaro. It is also not generally well known that Van Gogh had exhibited ten paintings at the Salon des Independants in March of 1890, and that Theo Van Gogh had written to Vincent that "Your paintings in the show were very successful. Monet said your pictures were the best in the whole exhibition." It stands to reason that if, in 1890, a certain Claude Monet made a comment like that - then Vincent was no longer an unknown quantity. What would any of us give, if we lived in that time, to have received such praise from Claude Monet?

The legacy of Van Gogh is a legacy that lives on in the rest of us, whenever we use a blazing yellow, when we load our brushes and carve out new imagery in a thick, undulating surface of paint. Vincent broke down the walls that so many of us were able to step over so much more easily. My only wish would have been that he could have had some idea that he was to become one of the most renowned creative artists in the history of the world - then perhaps that lonely gunshot in the fields of Auvers in 1890 would have never happened.

Visit Neil Myers' official website at

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Hitch Your Wagon to a Star

This week I am working on a 24 x 30 in. canvas of sunflowers. I've always enjoyed still life painting, and near the very start of my art career I sold more still life paintings than landscapes! But I later came to the conclusion that my mentor Jean-Claude Quilici had perfected the still life to such a point to where I did not know where to go with it. I had a great fear that any still life I did would look too much like his! That is because his are the most perfect I know and I feel that they could scarcely be improved on. But over the past few weeks I realized that I had a great desire to paint sunflowers and irises again - so I figured that I would do it without trying to reinvent the genre. Just give in to the joy of doing it, and not over think the matter.

I found myself thinking about Jean-Claude Quilici again when I was fortunate to receive a magazine "Pratique des Arts" and an accompanying DVD in the mail. In the DVD a woman from the magazine follows Jean-Claude Quilici on an outing to paint at Les Baux in southern France, and discusses art and his career. During the DVD we get a wonderful change to see Jean-Claude at work, and to see his process of formulating a painting - something that not even I had ever seen directly. Quilici is a very intelligent, perceptive man - coupled with a humble nature and a joie de vivre that is quite compelling - I am pleased to call him my master and friend. I believe it was Ralph Waldo Emerson that said "Hitch your wagon to a star." At whatever points in my own art career that doubt had begun to creep in, I had the example of Quilici held up in front of me so as to say that it could be done because he did it. Keep the faith.

In other wonderful news, my wife and I are heading to Taos, New Mexico to deliver a group of my paintings to the Taos Fine Art Gallery. After May 17th my work will be directly available through that gallery for the New Mexico summer, and I am very excited about the chance to show work in historic Taos. One of the 7 paintings slated to go to Taos has already sold, even before delivery - so I am delighted!

Just this past week I posted a new group of springtime in Arizona painting on my new paintings page of my website , so do drop by for a look. I'll soon be reposting works on "The Painter's Closet" web page as well.

And I do want to tell you all about the music of a dear friend of mine, Deanna Johnston. Deanna was one of the last women left standing on the CBS show Rockstar INXS, and she has an amazing, powerful voice that has been compared to the classic vocals of Janis Joplin. Deanna has recently completed an EP that is now for sale. I have a copy and have been listening to it like crazy - you can get a copy at her official site .

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Arizona Spring

This week and I am just finishing up 3 New Mexico themed paintings that will likely be going on display at the Taos Fine Art Gallery in Taos, NM. One painting is a landscape of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico - with the former home of the artist Georgia O'Keeffe in the image. Another is a vertical landscape that came from near Canyon Road in Santa Fe - and the last is a study of ladders and shadows against the wall at the Acoma Pueblo. Perhaps it comes through in my work that I have felt as artistically at home in New Mexico just as I have in Arizona. New Mexico is a beautiful state, with very friendly people and a landscape and history that should make anyone with a keen eye interested.

However I am happy to report that Spring is underway in Southern Arizona - birds are singing every morning with a little more gusto than usual. The days have turned warm and the buds are popping on the Paloverde trees. Soon the Paloverdes around town will bathe the desert in the most profound yellow hues you can imagine. Made all the more interesting by the fact that the branches and trunks of the Paloverdes are green! Still other yellows have preceded the arrival of the Paloverdes - two great blooms that have already been amazing this year are the Mexican Gold Poppies and the Brittlebrush. Both bloom yellow as well - or rather, the poppies more true to their name bloom in a yellow-gold tone. The Brittlebrush bloom up and down the hillsides of our mountains, mostly on the sunny side of things - and when you are able to contemplate a landscape where Giant Saguaros stand tall over what looks like a sea of yellow - then words immediately begin to fail the viewer. All you can think is 'yellow, yellow, yellow' so powerful and beautiful. It would not be a stretch to conceive that if Van Gogh had set to work on Brittlebrush and Poppies with the gusto that he tackled his sunflowers - then he would have felt at home in this all pervading blooming of yellow sun like apparitions.

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I took a hike up the Sutherland Trail at Catalina State park, and though we'd gone around most parts of that park - we had to curse ourselves for the fact that we had not yet visited this trail. But it so happened that when we did the poppies were blooming in grassy meadows, and there were all sorts of wildflowers springing up - pushed along gently by a rainstorm that had proceeded them about a week before - and around and among the yellows and golds were blue flowers, white blooms, all sorts of mixes of hues sprinkled along hillsides and beneath the towering gaze of the Saguaros. It seemed like in the desert tangle of spines and spikes and grass, every color had come to fruition at once.

I shot photos from all along the Sutherland trail, many of which I dare say will go into summertime paintings that will be posted on my website in the next couple of months. I'm just about to start a few of them.

A good friend in New York city told me that they are still experiencing a chilly climate - and that she had longed for the dry, warm air of the West. And in that same sense it made me thankful that I know this place speaks to me in a very basic sense - and that I would not be happy in a place too cold for too long. Soon I know the brutal heat of summer will be on us and we'll all be wishing we were in places like...New York, perhaps! But I love the plants and the sun - and vibrant, fiery landscapes beneath it.

Judging from the chirping and chattering of the birds outside - I'd say they agree with me.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Controlled Exaggerations

This week I am working on retouching several new paintings, among them a large frieze like piece called "Giants of the Desert II", which is a kind of homage to our local icon, the Saguaro. This one was inspired by some of the beautiful scenes along skyline drive in Tucson. In the new way that I have been working, I finish a painting 90% then set it to dry for a week or two, thereafter the touch ups are much easier and the results are better. Those of you who have seen my work in the flesh know that the paint is extremely thick, and if you continue to work details into thick paint you cut into the texture of it - disturbing the carefully honed shapes that I make in the paint with my palette knife. The process of completing a work is slow, but I have always seen the process as a simple matter of details - it is the result which really matters.

This week I've also been watching a fantastic British documentary called "How Art Shaped the World". In this documentary the commentator spends a great deal of time talking about how research into ancient art has proven that it was hard-wired into the human brain that we should enjoy seeing something other than pure naturalism reproduced. He talks about how there was a brief period in the sculpture of ancient Greece where pure naturalism was achieved, but then it was immediately abandoned and even the human body was subject to exaggerations - commensurate with the Greek ideals of physical beauty and fitness.

I was immediately set to thinking about my work and how it relates to this principle. I've often called my work "controlled exaggerations" or a kind of "synthetic painting." I experienced very early on in my explorations of art a feeling basically identical to the ancient Greeks - that pure reality once achieved told us little - almost nothing. I heard it said that some of the early Impressionist painters had this brought home to them just after the advent of the camera and photography - and that those painters didn't see the slightest point in representing pure visual reality when all you needed to do was take a photo. Save for the fact that the images of the day would be black and white, they would be, pure reality.

So, that is to say, in the age of high resolution digital photography, what is to be done if you are a painter? For me the answer was in a few simple sensations - the first sensation was one of color, but not of normal color - of something higher, brighter, more exaggerated and sensational. And the second main sensation was one of form, mostly brought about by the use of thick paint. By starting at visual reality, but reading it through my own sensations of bright colors and thick paint - I arrived at something I felt I had not seen before. It was closest, not surprisingly, to my mentor Jean-Claude Quilici - but it was not quite that either. There was more brushwork, and perhaps a slightly more abstract color scheme. There was some Van Gogh there also, but there was also a conscious effort to do cleaner, sharper works than the often quickly produced, impulsive Van Goghs. (He could complete 3 paintings in one day. Many of mine take 1 - 2 weeks to complete.) Out of all that emerged a style, something that even I recognized had some good points of distinction.

And when I thought about these things, it occurred to me that I was creating works that would give me more happiness than the best, sharpest digital image - or the best same effort of a realistic painter - I was making something that was a combination of emotion and visual reality. The end product was a hybrid. I realized that the painterly ability to reproduce pure visual reality told me only one thing - that the person has strong stylistic skills. In truth, it tells me little else. That is why some of the best artists, the ones we talk about and the ones that have had a lasting impact on our consciousnesses - they have taken strong artistic abilities and combined them with pure emotion - and thus they have opened many, many other doors of human expression - without having stopped cold behind the door of pure visual reality.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Success and What Comes After

This week I have just finished a new vertical of Saguaros at Catalina State Park called "Winter Light on Saguaros." An entire new group of works are now in the studio drying and posted online at: . This is my 'New Works' page.

Recent fortunate events have left me thinking a great deal about the trappings of success. For those who know me personally, one of my biggest personality problems is my near inability to slow down long enough to enjoy the success that I have already had. To me, all of that is in the past tense - and my laser-focus is usually limited to what is on the easel now, and where I think the next good painting is going to come from. It's not in my personality to say "I've arrived". I think all that will be more than open for interpretation long after I am gone. Even after some of the best sales I've ever had in January and February of this year - I remained stricken by the thought of what to do now?

That leads me to the inevitable next conclusion, and that is that it is of utmost importance to find new subjects. Even now into my 5th year of painting in the Southwest, I am eagerly looking for new subjects to explore, including those outside of this region. One of the paintings that I've most enjoyed doing this past month was "Giant Sequoias". And some art-collector friends of mine have suggest that I should attempt paintings of Mount Rainer, and also the Golden Gate Bridge. I'm eager for the challenge, because that releases me a bit from the bulk of my work which is Southwestern. In that lies the knowledge that I believe that this style I work in can be applied to virtually any landscape with beautiful results.

One of the unspoken of aspects of art is the art of finding a proper subject. The importance of this cannot be emphasized enough. How do you find new angles on the landscapes around you? Where are the landscapes in your region that you have not explored? Have you not featured any prominent aspects of your region - things that may make great paintings? What kind of painting needs to exist to fill a void of work that is not currently there? What kind of image is required to make people see things anew? What remains to be said, or expressed? Where is the fire hidden in the rocks?

I encourage all artists to spend some time thinking about those roads that have not yet been tread. We know that there are images to be explored that our viewers, and even ourselves, will enjoy and benefit from.

Never rest on anyone's laurels, least of all your own. Success pays the bills and buys the next stack of canvases - but transcendence is only going to be reached if we focus our relentless gaze on the future - on the road not taken. So, what now? That is the question you must ask yourself on all those days after. Therein lies the possibility of rebirth and creation.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Tubac Arts Festival

This week I am working on two Sedona paintings. One is a dried tree with the red mountains of Sedona behind - the other is a series of three red-rock spires towering above a valley of pine trees. I've always enjoyed the color challenges brought out by painting landscapes of Sedona. You get every range of red to orange on your palette, and the colors are sometimes very hard to make. But if the paintings are forcibly executed and the harmonic qualities of the reds and ochres are achieved - then interesting images emerge.

At the moment I'm getting prepared for the Tubac Arts Festival, which runs from Feb. 6 - Feb. 10th in Tubac, AZ. Tubac is a lovely small town full of art galleries and a great history in our local art scene. It is situated just under an hour's driving south of Tucson, just above the Mexican border town of Nogales. I will be doing a demonstration tomorrow at Cobalt Fine Arts from 1-3pm. If you happen to be in Tubac tomorrow, drop by and say hello! There will also be an opening on the evening of Feb. 8th for myself, Fred Collins, and Natasha Isenhour.

I'm very happy that 4 of my paintings have sold before the opening has even happened - so I send my sincerest thanks to those collectors who've purchased my work.

And to give you all a bit of a scoop on one of my next projects, and I'm planning to do a painting of the Giant Sequoias of California. We had the pleasure of briefly visiting the Mariposa grove of Sequoias at Yosimite National Park in 2006. We walked down a path for a good distance to get to them, and as we did it had begun to rain. By the time we got there it was pouring rain, we were all soaking wet and the few photographs that we have from our time in the Sequoia grove have haunted me, and now my wife and I are trying to think of a way to sneak in another trip to the region to see Sequoia National Park. I see at least one painting - maybe more, of these great trees waiting to be done. And it occured to me that I'd seen photographers taking artful shots of the Sequoias, but I have never seen a painting of one. I have visions in my head of the giant bases of these trees rendered in thick paint, with their reddish-sienna colors shining through.

Thinking about the Sequoias, Redwoods, and the old growth forests of the west, one can easily see why such amazing forests MUST be preserved. I well remember those few minutes we spent in the pouring rain at the bases of these giant trees -and the feeling that I had, as if spending time among nature's gods. Everyone should feel this, and everyone should be concerned at the sound of chainsaws in our old growth forests.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tubac Arts Festival & Jean-Claude Quilici

This week I am in the process of finishing a large 30 x 40 inch canvas of Taos Pueblo. This appealing symphony of ochre colors always serves as a reminder of what a challenge it is to paint a Pueblo structure and do it well. Many artists like to depict single Pueblo structures or homes of that style - I attempt, much like my mentor Jean-Claude Quilici, to capture the largesse of Taos and Acoma, and to pay proper homage to their beauty and uniqueness.

At this point in the exhibit season, many of us Southern Arizona artists turn our attention to the Tubac Arts festival. This year's festival runs February 6-10, and it features countless interesting attractions and artistic displays in historic Tubac, AZ. I will have paintings on display at Cobalt Fine Arts Gallery at 5 Camino Otero, so I encourage everyone to stop by. On display at Cobalt Fine Arts are some of the last remaining unsold pieces from a large group exhibited this past November - notably "Arizona The Beautiful" and "Saguaros Under a Monsoon Sky."

This week I had an interesting discussion with a musician friend of mine, and we were thinking about the issue of originality. I believe now, more than ever, true originality is urgently necessary for any kind of real creative success. With more than 6 billion people on planet earth , it is getting harder and harder to arrive at an idea that is truly new and invigorating - especially in the art world. Yet there are many cases in art history where painters actually drifted together, because they found they came to similar styles while working separately. Braque and Picasso realized that their own experiments in painting were leading them to analytical cubism - so they decided to collaborate. Monet and Renoir often placed their easels side by side in front of the subject, and came out with canvases that were in a similar spirit, but subtly different. The post-impressionists like Van Gogh and Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec drifted together as a sort of natural extension in deciding where to pick up from the impressionists. But I have never been a part of any group of artists, and in some sense I am happy for that. Working alone I feel I have managed to create something distinct - paintings that are not to be confused with any other Southern Arizona artist. And I have always been hyper-aware of how often I've walked in galleries in the west and seen a blur of indistinguishable paintings. It was sometimes as if the signatures on the paintings could have been inter-changed and nobody would notice.

That does not mean I have not had my own inspirations and my own master. From the very early days, around 1992 when I did my first oil paintings, I was always attracted to bright colored paint and the thick application of it. This occurred with no prompting, just a confirmation of instincts. And in about 1994 I had the pleasure of learning about contemporary French artist Jean-Claude Quilici. Quilici happened to be the cousin of one of my great friends, the French professor Dr. Augustin Quilici, from Lenoir-Rhyne College. Dr Quilici showed me Jean-Claude's work, and I was enthralled. This was it! This was the place to start.

Jean-Claude Quilici has garnered many accomplishments in his years of painting - for me, he offered regular friendship and encouragement, copies of books and of his works, as well as posters with full color reproductions. He was wise enough to offer encouragement and advice, but we never studied together and he never directed me to do this or that with my work. He did what a great artist should do, offer himself as an example if needed - but leave the student to find his or her own direction. I think Jean-Claude also knew that the discoveries that really matter are those we make alone in the studio, or in front of the subject - not something rambled over in a loud, raucous discussion of artists.

To this day, I can honestly admit that few things make me happier than seeing examples of Jean-Claude's work that I have not seen before. We've met twice, and we still keep in touch by mail. His work continues to soar in excellence and vibrancy - and I openly consider him my "maitre" and friend.

I do encourage everyone to make themselves familiar with the work of Jean-Claude Quilici, and by doing so, those of you with an interest in my work will see the seeds of inspiration that have given rise to my very own paintings.

Visit Neil's official paintings website at