Friday, November 20, 2009

It's Now or Never...And it Always Has Been!

This week I am working on a new painting of Courthouse Rock in Sedona, AZ. My wife and I visited Sedona for our 10 year wedding anniversary in October, and we had a chance to do some wonderful hikes and take our little son Liam along with us. For years I have been a little angry with myself that we'd always just driving through Sedona on the way to Flagstaff, but never really spent much time in Sedona or visited it's best sites. So this time we got it right, and it's no hollow irony because thats kind of thing is exactly what I was thinking about as a subject for this blog.

I remember a quote from Socrates that I read in college - he said something to the effect that the needs of the body always get in the way of true enlightenment. As I remember the context of the quote, Socrates actually meant the need for food, sleep, and shelter, basic things. And the seeking of those things took significant time away from reflection and / or the achievement of great things with the mind. After the year that I have had, with the discovery of the tumor in my back in late June, and the subsequent recovery process after surgery - I have thought about this a lot, and found myself wondering to what extent physical setbacks affect all of us, and keep us from grabbing hold of our dreams.

This question I floated to myself came right back at me just a few weeks ago, when my mom called. She sounded exhausted, and the tone of her voice told me that something was going on and it wasn't good. Of course your heart races when it's your mother - or anyone you love for that matter - and she told me that she had been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, or R.A. as we commonly know it. She had had a lot of aches around the different joints of her body, and most especially nagging pain in one of her feet. She also told me that prior to the diagnosis, she was fearful that she was getting depressed - only to learn later that the intense feeling of depression is yet another symptom of R.A. Of course, we had a number of conversations about what to do from here, with me peppering her with questions for her doctors about her quality of life, and what could she physically expect down the road. But underlying all this, and it wasn't lost on my mom, was that she wanted me to know because, with her diagnosis, we now know that R.A. runs on BOTH sides of my family. My Grandfather on my dad's side had R.A. He was a very heavy drinker and had told family members that it was the only thing that numbed his pain. Of course in the years when he was alive, there was probably very little else BUT drinking that one could do. And we know that though my father and his brother do not have the disease, both of their sisters do. And now on the other side of the family, my mom as well.

Now of course only a selfish person would get lost in the "What does this mean for me?" question, but my mom put all this together immediately after her diagnosis, and wanted me to know because this serious condition is now, we know, on both sides of my family. My mom is 54 years old, and I am 34, so though there is an age gap - we are not talking an astronomical number of years. I had to ask myself, if R.A. were in my future, what does that mean for the here and now?

When you think of these things it goes without saying that you risk stumbling over a million overused cliches. That's why I thought of the title "It's Now or Never...and it Always has Been". Because its just true. Every one of us is guilty of banking a little bit on time. If we are 30 we say to ourselves "well I'm not 40 yet", or if we're 40 we say "I'm not 50", and so on and so on. Yet I keep thinking that we could only benefit by a redoubled effort to live in the here and now, and never to take one single moment for granted. No cliches necessary. We really, truly don't know what hazards lie in our bodies, or out there in the world waiting for us. And because we don't know, every ounce of experience should be squeezed from this day, today.

On a Monday in late June of this year, as some of you know, I had a call from a neurosurgeon telling me that I had a sizable tumor on my spinal chord. I learned all this on a Monday, and was going to be rushed to surgery on Friday of that same week. That Tuesday, I sat down to sketch out a large painting of the Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona, Spain - the "Sagrada Familia". I did it partially in anger at myself. I had been wanting to paint this amazing structure for two or three years. Over and over again it got put off so I could work on more conventional subjects that I was known for. But that Tuesday I made a promise to myself, that I would never put off things I love so long. I had all the irrational thoughts one might have just before surgery, like "If I never wake up from the anesthesia, I will have never painted that damned cathedral!" So I took that first step in keeping the promise to myself, and I am happy to report that the finished "Sagrada Familia" painting will be debuted at my December 10th show at the Tansey Gallery in Tucson.

And now, as I think of the promises I must keep to myself and my loved ones - I find myself thinking of those old photos of the painter Renoir, taken when he had begun to suffer severely from arthritis. His knuckles were huge knots, and his fingers were curled up underneath. Still he strapped his paintbrushes to his hands, and made some very beautiful works in his later life. R.A. is not the end of my mom either, and for her, like so many, the question is what to do now in order to have the best quality of life down the road.

Renoir probably would have told us, that down the line we might ALL be strapping our brushes to our hands, for one reason or another; but there is no reason that we can't still make great works. My mom, Paula Shores, still has many great works in her - of that I'm sure. And she has taught me that, no matter what, the NEXT "Sagrada Familia" ought not have to wait three years to be put on canvas.

Here's to my mom, and all the moms out there - little does it know, that R.A. doesn't stand a chance against a feisty little Southern lady. :)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

30 Minutes with Gary Ernest Smith

This week I am finishing a new painting of Taos pueblo, seen from across the small river that flows in between the two largest buildings at the Pueblo. This is a new view, completely different than the other pueblos that I've painted, and I'll be excited to show it in December at the Tansey Gallery.

I have been thinking a great deal about influences this past month, and I should say that it has been a distinct priveldge to both know and meet countless artists that I truly admire. Among contemporary artists, the two that I would rank of the most importance in influencing my own career would be Jean-Claude Quilici - an artist who readers of my blog will know well - and Gary Ernest Smith. Gary Ernest Smith is one of the finest and most original painters now working in the west. He also shares a passion and a strong sensitivity that I have to color and the thick, earlthlike application of paint.

I did not know of Gary's work until I moved to Arizona in 2003. At that point, I saw his work in a gallery in Tucson and was deeply moved. Here was a painter that seemed to have the soil of the land in his blood. Someone incorporating the various sentiments of Monet, Maynard Dixon, Van Gogh - and who had weaved the feeling those artists brought into something else altogether - something we could simplistically call, his own style. Southwest Art Magazine ran a feature piece on Gary's work not long after I discovered him, only further adding to his many accomplishments.

But me being me, I'm never one to sit back and say "oh that's nice" and never do anything about it - so when I learned that Gary would be present at an opening for the Medicine Man Gallery in Tucson on November 19, 2005, I went there, and though I didn't recognize Gary outright, a friend of mine who worked for the gallery was kind enough to point him out to me. Gary was a wonderfully pleasant man, calm, self assured and almost serene. Looking back at our conversation, it seemed to me that Gary himself exuded some of the qualities of his work. He knew himself well as an artist, and had all the ease and confidence of an artist whose body of work spoke for itself, and whose career was one to be respected.

Gary and I talked about countless things relating to art. I remember telling him that I loved his work because he put viewers of fine art right square in the middle of fields - making them contemplate elemental aspects of the earth, and of all life that springs from the earth. He nodded with satisfaction at this comment. I also told him that even though his style was notably different, that I had something of the feeling, looking at his work, like one has when looking at the best of Edward Hopper's work. Something very American in its sentiment, solid and permanent, which invites the viewer to a quiet contemplation of beautifully cultivated fields; of bales of hay in the sunlight, or raw earth tilled and prepared for planting. I remember when I mentioned Hoppper Gary said something along the lines of "Now you're talking about my kind of artist." And he went on to talk a good deal about Maynard Dixon and how Dixon's work had influenced his own. When I became better acquainted with the work of Maynard Dixon, I too saw the connection. In addition to all that, I realized that one of the things I loved the most about Gary's work was the fact that his work did not repeat the endlessly copied themes of the cowboy painters - Gary Ernest Smith's American West was, and is, a West which seemed to be to be both in the external and internal of us. He had his own vision of the West which continues to stand out against all other painters of his generation.

At some point Gary and I talked and talked until I looked at my watch and realized that I had been hogging his attention for around 30 minutes, (get two committed artists together and they could talk all day, but an artist at his own opening likes to make himself available to chat with various collectors and art lovers) and out of politeness I excused myself, gave him my card and my website address and said "I'm not groping for compliments" , so that he would know I'm not asking him to reciprocate - that would be dishonest. And he very kindly said "Oh, I will anyway!" with a very genuine smile.

I got the idea recently that it would be interesting to have Gary answer a few basic questions about his work for this blog. Dr Sublette and Jaime Gould of Medicine Man Gallery were kind enough to put me in contact with Gary, and he graciously put down some of his thoughts about his work for me. Here are the questions and answers:

1) Your strong focus on fields as subject matter has always been striking to me. Fields seem to be representative of primal life, food, sustenance, emblems of rural life and more. Do you see field subjects in that metaphorical sense? Or do they strike you more as meaningful in the strictly visual sense? I see my field paintings as what they are but also with deeper meaning. they represent the substance of what we are in this life. Our bodies come from the dust and return to the dust. All life springs from the earth. Our source of nourishment comes from the earth. On an other level, I love the vastness of space and the quietness of standing in open fields. I wanted to try to recreate these feelings in these large paintings. I could only see the paintings in this large scale format as I wanted this sense of vastness, of being all consumed by the surroundings. I originally saw the series in my head before I painted them. Not that I saw each piece individually, but I sensed the feelings I wanted to convey. I wanted the hand of man to show in them and how preparing the earth for harvest has created life sustaining rewards as well as beautiful design elements .I knew the size of each was important and to be 6'x8', 6'x10', and up to 16' long.

2.) I have seen a handful of your large works, and when viewing them found myself reminded of something Jackson Pollock said...when he once said "when I am IN my painting". I found myself as a viewer feeling as if I was literally contained within the work I was viewing. These kinds of extremely large format works, to me, hearken back to sensations created in large works by the Abstract Expressionists, such as Pollock, Still, and Rothko; is this sensation of being "in" a painting deliberate? Or is it the reaction produced on Mr Myers alone? I definitely relate to Pollock's statement about "being contained within the work". When I start a large size painting, I start early in the morning and work straight through the first day in organizing and laying out the painting. This time often goes into the night. I take few breaks. It is all encompassing, even stopping is difficult. It is like this creative hunger must be fed. the painting is not most often completed in a day, but the compositional problems and direction is resolved. When I struggle beyond the first day of composing, it eats at me until I resolve it.I carry around imagery in my head all the time. If I'm not painting I'm thinking about it.

3.) Just as you are keenly interested in fields as subjects, it strikes me also that you like the barrier spaces, like ditch grass between rows, or any other kind of wild, overgrown spaces on the edges of fields. Could you talk about that a bit? My first attempts at painting rural America started with iconic imagery of people that worked the fields that I remembered while growing up on a farm in Oregon. The paintings were primarily of a historic nature and of a time when self reliance and hard physical work accomplished the task of making a living in a primarily rural society. My paintings began to evolve, after a few years, and the individuals begin to diminish in size and proportion until the gave way to the landscape. The paintings transformed from yesterday to today. Man's presents is still there in the cultivated land. I began to notice the edges of fields and ditch banks and saw the beauty in the common place and overlooked. I look for subject matter that is so familiar that we look past it and try to find the beauty there in. My work continues to evolve. Discovery leads from one thing to another. It keeps my art fresh and challenging.

4.) I remember, when you and I talked, that you mentioned influences on your work such as Maynard Dixon and Edward Hopper, however the quality of light in some of your works, accompanied by a softly impastoed surface you've created by palette knife - occasionally reminds me a some works by Monet. Have you looked to the Impressionists as influences, or is this a coincidental cross current? I study art all through the ages and appreciate the best of what each generation and society has produced. One cannot incorporate techniques and philosophies along the way. You pick up your favorites like Giotto, Rembrandt, The Pre-Raphaelites,Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, the Nabis, Modigliani, Russell, Remington TheTaos School, Maynard Dixon, Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent and the list goes on and on into contemporary times. Some how we take all these influences, put them in the hopper and let them congeal over time, then, following our own path, get to know yourself, develop your skills and something unique of you comes out.I was told by an art professor one time when he I asked about developing a style,"don't worry about a style. Work hard. Build a body of work. Over time your work will be as legible as your hand writing.

5.) You have had a long and very successful career as an artist, is there anything nagging you that you feel you have not done, artistically? To me, what I have not done is the next painting. I stay excited to see the results of a new painting. If I discover something exciting within the process that needs exploring, that's the best. It will often become a series to explore. I don't get to this point by intellectualizing. It most often comes by discovery in something I'm working on or some special insight gained while painting.

6.) What would be the best advice you could offer beginner and mid-career artists who would like to be successful? Develop your skills, study from the great art, be the best artist you can be. Discover what excites you and explore the visual possibilities. A true work of art has all elements, principles, craft and creativity going on within it .If one thing is missing it falls short. It is said that it takes about 50 years after an artist dies to really assess their work. Does it have relevance enough to be remembered? That is for time and others to decide. We can only do our best with sincerity and enjoy the journey along the way as it is truly a rewarding and remarkable journey.

Gary Ernest Smith

* Note from Neil: My sincere thanks to the nice folks at Medicine Man Gallery of Tucson for their assistance, and to Gary Ernest Smith himself for taking his time to answer the curious questions from another artist.
Be sure to check out the beautiful book on Gary's work called "Holding Ground, the Art of Gary Ernest Smith", by Donald J. Hagerty.

Visit Medicine Man Gallery at or drop by to see original works by Gary and countless other talented artists. Images used in this column are copyright Medicine Man Gallery and Gary Ernest Smith 2009.
*Image at the top of this article is "Wild Growth Patterns", original oil painting by Gary Ernest Smith, currently on display at Medicine Man Gallery.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Coming out of the Dark, and Looking Ahead

This week I have just finished the long delayed "Giants of the Desert III". This series of works feature large, powerful images of Saguaros that I have discovered as I've been hiking around the Tucson area. The original "Giants of the Desert" depicted a stand of Saguaros on a ridge at Catalina State Park. "Giants of the Desert II" depicted a group near Skyline Drive, in Tucson. The new "Giants III" painting returns back to Catalina State Park for it's image - a group of massive Saguaros near a meadow on the Sutherland Trail.

And for me, it seems a luxury even to be thinking about these things. I did write awhile back to let you all know that my back troubles were slowing my work down and causing me grief. After about a zillion scans and trips to countless Doctors, we finally found the culprit. I had a tumor called a Schwannoma, which had pressed my spinal cord nearly flat. My neurosurgeon was impressed that I was still walking, because the scans revealed that the cord was literally pressed down to a very fine filament. On June 26th I underwent the operation to remove it, and it was successful. Thankfully I could wiggle my toes and move my feet even as I was coming out of anesthesia. Now in recovery, I am walking pretty well, doing exercises every morning and strengthening my legs. In such a situation there is only one primary goal - get well enough to be able to be an equal partner in my family. To be able to be a good husband, a good dad, and yes, by ALL means - a good painter! During the initial recovery phase, I was literally aching to paint. Now I am back at it again, working short shifts and giving my back plenty of rest. When I was in the hospital and the medication left me unable to sleep, I literally spent entire nights trying to ignore the Michael Jackson hoopla on TV, and trying to dream up new ideas for paintings. I can't bear that any time in one's life be wasted!

My initial goal is to work towards an exhibit I have coming up in December where I will be the featured artist at the Tansey Gallery in Tucson. It will not likely be as large a group of works as were put on display in January at my one man show, however I am changing the focus of this group to simply be a collection of high quality works - without trying to overwhelm the viewer with numbers. In among the Southwestern Landscapes that I am known for, will be a handful of works on more diverse subjects such as Italy, Alaska, and perhaps also the Gaudi church the "Sagrada Familia" in Barcelona, Spain. For a long time I have wanted to do a version of Claude Monet's Lilly pond, but do it in MY style...and that may emerge for this show. The theme will be something along the lines of "the Southwest and beyond", as I'll certainly do some of the regional works that I am known for, but I'd like to infuse some new blood into the subject matter.

I've always said that an artist must give themselves the time and the ability to have visions. By that I mean that the artist has to have proper time and ability to conceive of things that do not exist at present. In fact, my convalescence after the surgery to remove the tumor was, despite being physically hard as hell - also a blessing because it forced me to think about my work from every angle, and it forced me to get excited about new views of beautiful wild lands. I am practical enough to never forget that the Southwest has been the place of origin of my success so far - and I still paint Southwestern subjects happily. However the challenge right now is to continue to find NEW images in the old landscape, and they are there - certainly. You just have to look. I was reminded of this a couple of months ago when I received a beautiful stack of photos in the mail from my friend and mentor Jean-Claude Quilici. He sent ahead some images of new works of Provence he had created for shows in Hong Kong and elsewhere - and I was struck by his amazing ability to find new and interesting angles on his old favored landscape of Provence. Quilici has had artistic roots in Provence for all of his 60-plus years, and he still pulls something beautiful from the land and puts in on canvas. That is an excellent artist.

I can freely admit as well that I am obsessed with landscapes of another nearby state....California. Ever since my wife and I and brother-in law Uros (pronounced oor-ush, my wife's family is from the former Yugoslavia) took a road trip in 2006 thru eastern California and Yosemite, I have not been able to get the place out of my mind. I saw things in Yosemite than a thousand canvases couldn't satisfy. And all along the way, from Mono Lake, to the Bodie ghost town - countless amazing visions. I painted a large work called "Yosemite Valley" in 2007 and it was shown and sold at a gallery in Taos, NM. But I still feel there is more to do, and I hope in the near future to find a gallery I can work with in California, and set about in earnest doing some more CA subjects and going out there to find more.
Stay tuned to for new fall works as they arrive!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Art & Pain

This week I am working on a sketch for a new painting in my "Giants of the Desert" series. When I am out in a landscape I often look for stands of Saguaro cacti that are visually powerful, which set a strong image in the landscape. While walking in a field where there were no trails, I stumbled across just such a stand of Giant Saguaros on the Sutherland trail at Catalina State Park, and have set out to paint them.

This week I also wanted to take this chance to thank all my dear friends and collectors who have chimed in to wish me well as I have been trying to facilitate a recovery from my back ailments. In all honestly, I ended up getting so sick from my medications that I took myself off all of them two weeks ago - and to my own surprise, I feel 75% better! I am still struggling with some issues, but the improvement is significant. This week I also found myself thinking of a gentle rebuke from my wife; when she mentioned that I talk about my ailments too much! After thinking about it, I had to admit that she was probably right. But as I was kicking myself for such negligence towards my friends and their own lives...the reason WHY occurred to me immediately. I remember once telling my wife this scenario; imagine that every ten seconds a little creature in your shoe bit you on the foot. For days, months, weeks, even years - sure as clockwork, this little monster bit your foot. Naturally your attention span would be ruined. It would be hard to have a conversation. It would be hard to be fully present in the moment. It would be hard not to fear the future if again and again you got bit. So it seems to me that a chronic pain issue is much like that - it forces the person suffering this situation to be too much IN themselves...always turning the problem over in their minds, always waiting for the next bite. Always dreading the inevitability of it. But hers was a fair rebuke, and I accept the criticism openly.

Of course when I am thinking about art, I also got to thinking a lot about art and pain. One of the most poignant examples of this, we all know, is the struggle of Van Gogh, which is well known to most people. It always seemed to me that what Vincent did which is so incredibly heroic, was that despite all the turmoil in his personal life, his own battle with insanity, poverty, loneliness, lack of love, and art in general - he somehow managed to internalize all of that turmoil, and when it exited him thru his brushes, the resulting canvases were some of the most beautiful expressionist works done by anyone. I try to fathom the extent of his suffering and it boggles the mind - but it only boggles when one realizes that despite everything, Vincent created beautiful works that were full of energy, heat, passion, and a love of the beauty of the world. How many desperate individuals, locked in mental facilities around the world could find it in them to still create such breathtaking beauty? Perhaps more than we know...but it is only in the acknowledgement of this that we can appreciate Vincent's triumph over pain. True, the waves did crash in over him eventually - but he stood the force of the tide, internally and externally, for a long, long time. Long enough to leave a body of beautiful work, and many of the late ones especially - extracted from pain and re-rendered beautiful in the world. That, my friends, that is an accomplishment!

But, as I have discussed in earlier blogs, Van Gogh's case is not exactly unique in art. Just this week I saw a fantastic documentary on the abstract artist Mark Rothko, called "Rothko's Rooms". What was most interesting about Rothko is that, after many years of struggle, he did experience the taste of true success in the later part of his life. However the struggle that was integral in his work remained. He himself said that a sense of the tragic notion of the image was always present in his mind. When one begins to try to understand, in a worldly sense, why one still feels this strong sense of tragic, even when your works are going for big money, the answer reveals itself to be that the tragic, for Rothko, was a certain state of mind that could not be affected by anything external to it. So it would not be changed by success or the vestiges of it. And when one looks long and hard at the late, dark works of Rothko, notably some of the Seagram's murals and the black works that went into the Rothko Chapel - a real sense of beauty and subtle tragedy does emerge. As if the artist were making works that were the visual and emotional equivalent of the universe before the big bang. Perhaps it should be surprising that an artist, so much IN his own mind as Rothko was - should end his own life, much as Van Gogh did. Even I know that the struggle to create has a tendency to hollow out a person.

It could be said, perhaps, that struggle and art are the same thing. The attainment of great images does not generally deliver itself on a silver platter. Rather it is always in front of you as you go chasing after it. The thrill of the chase is enough for some people. For others, the thing must be captured to be enjoyed and expressed. But you go on after it because you don't know what else to do. Most of us know we can't turn back now. We are too far down the road - so we struggle on, with bad backs - sometimes with unhealthy minds - to try to shove it all aside for a deep breath of beauty.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Putting the Brushes Down in Order to Pick Them Back Up

This week, after a lot of struggles and a lot of fits and starts, I have finished a new 24 x 30 of the Abbey of Senanque, in France. This is one of the beautiful scenes of France, a country full of amazing subjects for paintings -with the old abbey nestled between green hills, and fields of lavender glowing in perfect rows of purple and violet.

However, I have to write a note to all my friends, family, and collectors to let you all know that I have decided to go on a very "low-work" hiatus from painting. This is my first real slowdown in work since 2003. As some of you guys may know, I have been struggling for years with lumbar-spinal arthritis. Recently I have had to admit that this chronic condition has taken so much from me that I am at risk of losing or ruining some of the most important people and enjoyments in my life. It is not my intention to bore all of you with some long litany of medical gripes. Lord knows, we've all had our problems and I happen to believe that most people don't really find a long medical confession that interesting...however I am also a believer that most of us can handle a little more truth than we are used to getting. So for all of you who want to know, I'll briefly tell you my situation.

After years of intermittent back trouble, I began to have severe problems sleeping in 2006. At first I could take an aspirin or two in the middle of the night to deal with it. Then that stopped having any effect. What was happening was that I was getting such pain in my back when I lay down flat, that it was waking me up and preventing restful sleep. Naturally, I was utterly exhausted, and the wear and tear began to show. I tried countless cures and remedies, conventional and unconventional. Acupuncture, massage, chiropractic treatment - medications and more medications. And still the problem has persisted - and has, in fact, gotten worse. Every night has been an agony of burning needles of pain, sharp and endless, coursing up the middle of my lower back. Other times I lay there in misery with dull, sore aches - as always, unable to sleep.

Recent tests have revealed that I have two bulging discs in my back, a herniated disk, and significant arthritic degeneration in the facet joints of my back. Friends who have not seen me in awhile have been shocked to find a skinny, hollow eyed version of me who limps and who stumbles and has bad balance. Now that I have lost a good deal of feeling in my right leg and some in my left foot, I have committed to an intensive course of physical therapy and rest, to try to rehabilitate the multiple, horrible problems with my back. This is what the neurological specialists have advised me to do.

So, the plan for the next 3 to 4 months is to take a very "low-work" schedule to focus on physical therapy and to be with my family, most notably my new 1 month old son Liam. If I can work myself into some kind of acceptable shape, I plan a full return to work in mid-summer. (Don't worry Jared, you'll still get your Catalinas painting, but it may take a little bit more time to complete :)

At the moment there are still an adequate number of paintings in all 3 of the galleries where I show work. And there are a handful that are drying and will soon be made available. After I finish the next commission piece I am working on, any further commissions or special projects will be given a realistic time frame for completion in coordination with the rehab of my back. I also plan to work, whenever possible, to complete the "Fire in the Rocks" book project, and will keep you all updated when it's available. My website will continue to be maintained and updated, so please don't hesitate to visit.

So, to all my wonderful friends out there who have supported me and encouraged me thru this very painful struggle, I love you guys and appreciate every ounce of your support. To my collectors and friends at the galleries, rest assured that I am not hitting the stop button...rather I'm gearing down to 2nd and will be driving in the slow lane for a few months.

My thanks to everyone - here's to a recovery of health, and to the next batch of canvases that will be waiting for a blazing rush of energy.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Take a Walk in Santa Fe

This week I am working on a painting of the Abbey of Senanque in Provence, France. After copying some of the masterworks of Provencal artists in my college days - this represents my first return to painting Provence in a very long time. It's been a joy to work at the root-source of my idols, namely Quilici and Van Gogh. It reminds me of the quote that my friend and mentor Jean-Claude Quilici made about my work, when he said "it's too bad that Provence is so far from where Neil lives!" In all honesty, Provence is the real origin of the kind of expressionist work that I and Jean-Claude do, so it seems natural that I should come back to it at some point.

Several times this week, as my wife and I have been talking about our trips around the Southwest, the subject of Santa Fe has come up. Invariably, we start talking about how many beautiful days and evenings we've had on trips to this wonderful city. Honestly, if circumstances didn't have me based in Southern Arizona, my immediate 2nd choice for a place to live would be Santa Fe, New Mexico. We first saw the town briefly in 2003, and have made trips back there as frequently as we could manage.

There is some kind of unique confluence in Santa Fe - a kind of nexus of art, history, cross culture influences of native American, Hispanic, and Anglo American traditions. And the fact that Santa Fe is one of our oldest cities - also containing the oldest church in America, the San Miguel Mission which was built between 1610-1628. I painted the mission in 2004, and still have the painting. Santa Fe itself dates from 1610. The old churches and history are just one aspect - what seems so interesting is that the quaintness and the age of the town has been so well preserved. What is unfortunately true about America is a near obsessive need to bulldoze the old buildings and structures - but this hasn't gotten its way entirely in Santa Fe. Even the new buildings around town are built in the adobe style that was so well known to much of New Mexico and Arizona. Many of the homes around areas like Canyon Road also preserve this style. The end result is that Santa Fe still feels small, intimate, and it looks beautiful.

One obvious plus to spending time in Santa Fe is that you can walk around it. Most of the artsy parts of town, the main square, Canyon Road - these all have good sidewalks and are a reasonable distance apart. When I visit Santa Fe I find myself thinking of the terrible epidemic of obesity in America - and it occurs to me that some small responsibility for this should be placed on city planners. For example, there are many highly developed areas around Tucson (where we live) that have NO sidewalks at all. School kids get off the bus and walk home in the dirt beside the paved road. It seems to me that if you'd like to encourage your population to take an afternoon or morning stroll - or walk somewhere in lieu of driving, they need that basic convenience of a sidewalk. Even most small towns in North Carolina where I grew up had them - and it is another great aspect of visiting Santa Fe. Just park your car and walk around it. You'll find all sorts of nooks in town, with galleries, shops, restaurants, etc - places you'd have missed if you were zooming by in a car.

In 2007 I saw a special exhibit at the Palace of the Governors where the original scroll for the Jack Kerouac book "On the Road" was unrolled and put on display in a long, clear display case. Kerouac wrote the book in a frenzy of work in 1951 - and his style of writing was executed so fast that he didn't use conventional pages - he used a long scroll that could be unwound as he went. It's display was part of a special travelling exhibit taking the scroll around America. Always having been a fan of the beat generation and their new visions of life and writing - it was a special privilege to see this important piece of history on display in one of Santa Fe's most historic spots.

Another aspect of Santa Fe which I find interesting is it's inherent value as an artistic subject. Frequently on trips my wife and I wander along the back alleys of the downtown and the roads and driveways around Canyon Road - and from the photographs we took in these areas have come some of my best works, like "Spring Sunshine, Canyon Road", "Fence Shadows, Santa Fe" and "Pink Tree, Santa Fe." Visually, what is at work in Santa Fe - as you see the sunlight filtering off the adobe structures - is the same thing that is at work when you visit Taos Pueblo. Ochre and Sienna Earth colors in solid shapes, with light and shadow projected on them. Thus the homes around Canyon Road strike me artistically the same way the native American Pueblos do. And that's a great source for wonderful paintings.
When I travel, and then I think about it afterwards, I have to say that I don't remember things in a perfect stream of consciousness - but rather in individual scenes, or images. Like arriving in Santa Fe in 2007 while a soft springtime snow was falling on the town. My wife and I checked into our hotel and then walked over to a cafe with a terrace, where we watched the snow falling on some recently blooming flowers. Till all the adobe buildings were coated with white, and the town slowed down to a hush as the snow accumulated. Or I remember a gorgeous sunny morning during our trip to Santa Fe last year, where we bought muffins for breakfast and took them out to a bench on the square - sharing crumbs with the birds and watching vendors set up for the day. Travel is full of those kinds of moments, and for those of you who may be thinking about it - take it from me, those moments are very, very easy to find in a place like Santa Fe. Stay there a few days, and make a few memories of your own.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Trying to Make it in the American Arts Scene in a Tough Economy

This week I am working on a large study of a Saguaro that was photographed at the Naranja town site, near where I live in Oro Valley. This piece promises to be one of a line of studies that I've done, featuring a large saguaro as a central point - a kind of consideration of our most iconic Southern Arizona image.

I thought that this week I would write about a subject most of us artists know pretty well right now - and that is how to try to succeed in these times of crisis.

I think that all artists must be honest with themselves and admit that when homes are being foreclosed on, jobs are being shed in the thousands, and many families are struggling just to cover medical bills and meet basic necessities - art is, naturally, one of the last things on their minds. Art is something that one has the luxury of enjoying only if the essentials of life are taken care of. And so I think that most artists must confront this issue and be ready for maximum flexibility in these leaner times.

Thankfully, I have been lucky in the fact that my own work is doing as well as ever. Sales in the early months of this year have been amazing, and I can only be grateful for the wonderful collectors who continue to buy my work and keep ME in the studio working. I have found that some essential things were necessary for keeping interest high, and for those artists who are curious, I'll share what's worked for me so far.

First of all, you have to be open to negotiate with the clients for discounts. Most luxury items like paintings are going to require this right now whether we like it or not, so you must be flexible if the client requires it. Back in October of last year when the full brunt of the credit crisis emerged - I emailed all 4 of the gallery directors that I work with and gave them a maximum possible leeway in cases where they were able to negotiate prices. Especially on larger paintings which have a higher price point. And I found that if the gallery directors and owners were quickly able to negotiate prices more freely, then they could secure the sale more easily without having to call me and ask if it was ok.

Second, my suggestion would be to think VERY hard before you raise prices in this economy. People are getting pinched hard - and it would be a bad move for sure if a painting or work of art was almost within someones range and the artist unnecessarily moved the price upward and lost sales because of it. In the current climate, the artist might have to be content with having his or her work HOLD its value, until better conditions made price increases more feasible. Another reason I would caution against this is because that if the economy got drastically worse, then you could potentially become even more out of reach for collectors of more middle class means.

Third, I think we all have to pay hard attention to our expenses with advertising. I found that one thing that has helped me immensely was the Arizona Collector's Guide. In late summer last year I bought a page ad in the Arizona Collector's Guide and it has paid good dividends for me during the entire exhibit season. I would strongly suggest this for an artist. If your area has a state collector's guide, as I know we have in Arizona and New Mexico, then you should try to buy an ad in it. The long shelf life of such things will work to your advantage. Of course advertisements in major magazines are helpful also, and I have found this to be true - but you have to allow for the fact that most of them have a shelf life of only one month. However you must remember that you typically can negotiate better deals with magazines if you run a series of ads, which is a possibility if you have the revenue to do so. From magazines, I've had the best results from ads in Southwest Art Magazine. SWA is one of the best magazines for connecting with collectors in the American Southwest. They also do a good job of fairly representing all forms of Southwestern Art, from the traditional, to the expressionist, to the more experimental work, and they have an interactive website that is easy to use for both artists and collectors.

Fourth, now this is a hard point to concede if you are an artist, but I'm going to be honest about it; this may not be the best time to go radical. Of course, all us artists are by nature people who love to experiment. But I think that for survival sake, you must temper that urge a little bit in these times. I don't think this is a time to do something that your clientele can't relate to. I know that I am working hard to find new images to paint within the contexts of the kinds of work that I am known for. This means a lot of Arizona and New Mexico, but that's ok - I love these places. I was quoted in Tucson Home Magazine as saying "I like to paint things people know in ways they've never seen before", and that's even more true now. I can only liken this to a concert performer agreeing to play most of the greatest hits for the crowd - I think a visual artist will probably do better to stay closer to their "greatest hits" themes right now.

Fifth - this is the greatest lesson of all: do great works! It bears repeating...DO GREAT WORKS! That is the first-best thing an artist can do. You must make your works as strong or stronger than they've ever been, so as to assuage the collector of any doubts he or she may have in these rough times. That is to say, make them fall in love with your work - hopefully make them feel so passionate about it that not even they let the doubts creep in. That is your one greatest move. That is the thing which is always in your control if you are an artist. So now is the best time ever to recommit yourself to doing great works. I told another Tucson based artist this and said "at least if they walk out of the gallery without buying a painting, we can make it bug them like crazy (in a good way) until they get something at a later date."

I offer these things as suggestion only. There is no single path to success in these times, and each person must find what works for them and do that to the n'th degree.

I also would like to reiterate to some politicians who see the arts as a waste - that, as another columnist said "arts jobs are American jobs". I have heard this idea being floated by nationally known political figures that funding for such wonderful organizations as the National Endowment for the Arts is unnecessary - and this literally makes my skin crawl. We have such a wonderful tradition in America of brilliant painters, writers, musicians, actors, photographers, documentary filmmakers, sculptors - and countless other artists - that if they were to be removed from American life, our tough days would be even more dull and infinitely less enjoyable. In this time where we hope we are all doing the right things to lift our people and our economy - American Arts deserve to be EQUALLY lifted, and not to be left behind. Besides, when I sell a painting, the arts supply store benefits, the UPS courier service benefits, taxes are paid on the sale, as well as income taxes by me, and the gallery and the artist and the UPS driver and the associates at Aaron Brothers art supplies and the writers and editors of the magazine where I advertise - and countless others are all employed and productive citizens because of it.

Lastly, as I sign off I would like to send heartfelt condolences to the family of actress Natasha Richardson. Her loss is a terrible tragedy for her husband Liam Neeson, her sons and her family. With her departure we have lost a wonderful actress, and a beautiful woman of breathtaking elegance, grace, and humor. Her films and performances will live on after her, and her contributions as an artist will remain with us.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pastel Dust, Manet's Blue Couch, and Isbell's Poetics

This week I am finishing a series of small 8 x 10 inch oil paintings depicting subjects in Santa Fe, New Mexico and various spots around southern Arizona. I am also working on a series of pastel studies - the first pastels I've done since I was a small kid. When I was maybe 8 or 10 years old my mom had me draw a bit in pastels and I even did a portrait of her, which I still have among my old collections of our drawings. I never forgot them, and decided just recently that, as an artist, I really needed the challenge of something new.

Another reason was that I bought a pastel of Venice, Italy from the Tucson artist Gabor Svagrik. This pastel was a gift for my wife for her 33rd birthday. I used to show work with Gabor at the Max Gallery, and my wife had frequently commented on his cityscape pastels - how they would remind her of her youth that she spent in her native Belgrade, Serbia. Though this piece by Gabor was a gift for my wife, I actually felt that it was a real benefit to me also - as I spent a long period of time looking at the subtlety of Gabor's handling of the pastel medium. The soft glow of the figures in the rain, brought out so well in the velvety haze of the pastel chalk. It made me remember toiling away for hours as a little boy, slashing colors and shapes in pastel onto the paper. It also made me remember the original thought that I'd had - that an artist strengthens his or her legitimacy by working in multiple mediums.

Of course, this does present it's own set of artistic challenges for me. A lot of my work is about the effect of the thick oil paints and bright colors; and neither can be reproduced exactly in pastel. Pastel does not posses the pure force and shine of oil colors, and if you lay pastel on the paper too thickly you are not doing yourself any great justice. In fact, as a medium, it seems to me to be much more about subtlety than force. Artists like Gabor, as well as masters from the past such as Monet, Manet and Degas all used pastel to enhance the warm glow of emotional effects. I, on the other hand, have to decide a crucial question, ie, "What does a Neil Myers pastel look like?"

As I've been doing these small studies over the past week, I was reminded of the greatest pastel that I'd ever seen - a phenomenal piece by Manet called "Madame Manet on a Blue Couch". When I saw the piece in 1996 in Paris, I was stunned. It was such a unique work because it was a portrait but not a portrait - in a peculiar sense. When I was looking at it, what struck me powerfully was Manet's soft portrayal of the couch itself, surrounding the central figure and almost becoming the object of the piece more than the figure. It felt like a couch that one could just collapse into. Inviting and soft, asking for repose.

When I began to think about artists changing mediums, I also remembered the late watercolors by Cezanne. These works, in my view, were utterly different than his oil paintings. What was so unusual about them was mostly that the paper was often nearly all white, and Cezanne only seemed to work to evolve certain details in the work. I have not studied his intentions behind the work sufficiently to resolve whether or not he considered most of his late watercolors finished or not. To me they look unfinished - but I do realize that he must have been bringing out what seemed to him to be essential elements; the arm of a tree, the spine of the Mont Sainte Victoire - and the images emerged as though through the white fog of the paper.

I think I will have to resolve, in the coming days, the debate over whether or not a Neil Myers pastel or watercolor will represent a break from his oil painting style. We shall see. I've always worked with a little bit of free experimentation spirit in the back of my mind, and frequently I too am along for the ride in seeing where these imagistic explorations go.

Stay tuned to and I'll post the first of the pastels on "the painter's closet" page as soon as they are ready.

Also, for those of you who love great music, I'd like to shamelessly plug a new self titled CD by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. I just downloaded it last night from itunes, and found myself sitting at my desk with my guitar, figuring out the song "Cigarettes and Wine", a beautiful tune that harkens back to other slow blues-rock songs of the past. The CD has already received praise from Rolling Stone and Spin magazine. For those of you who don't know him, the leader of the band Jason Isbell is a former guitarist/ singer / songwriter for the Drive-by Truckers - and he was responsible for penning some of DBT's most memorable songs like "The Day John Henry Died" and "Goddamn Lonely Love." I've met Jason twice when he and the 400 unit played shows in Tucson. The second time we met up he and I spent a cold half hour standing behind Club Congress in Tucson, talking about music and life. Jason's a really cool guy, a person who is very real and very level. He's a master songsmith, a real Southern-American poet. His band are a talented bunch of guys as well - the guitarist of the band Browan Lollar is an artist on the side, and he designed the graphics and images for the new 400 Unit CD. You can check Jason and the band out at , where you'll find all relevant info and links to their myspace where you can sample the music. I urge everyone to support great indie artists such as Jason and his band. And don't miss a chance to catch them live if they swing by your area.

Now I have go get busy getting my fingers covered in pastel dust!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

One the Eve of My First One-Man Show, A Chance to Say Thank You

This week, as I am nearing the January 16th opening of my first one-man show at the Max Gallery in Tucson, I wanted to take this moment to write a few lines to say thank you to those who helped me along the way. Not some academy awards roll the credits sort of thing, but name the people who I could not have done this without - and tell you why they have been important.

First and foremost is my wife Jelena. Many days I have worked alone in the studio all day, then she would come home and I would hear her reactions to the days work, unedited and honest. I always hope to hear that "heeeyyyyyyyy" that signals a good painting. And I land with a thud sometimes when I hear a hesitant "not bad...." as she quizzically sizes up a painting. Often I would feel insecure about some aspect of a work, a tree, a few brush strokes - but I would try to exercise a little painterly denial and put it out of my mind. Then Jelena would march right in and say "what's up with that tree?" And she would see the weak spot immediately. This criticism hurts sometimes, but a painter profits from it. The kind of loving, honest support that says you can do better. And another great gift my wife has given is the mere ability to do the work, the time to develop as a painter and the freedom to chase a dream that doesn't frequently make the one chasing it a rich man. I often tell people that we all know Vincent Van Gogh, but fewer people know Theo Van Gogh, his brother - who supported Vincent financially and emotionally, without whom he would not have been able to the beautiful paintings we all revere. My wife Jelena has been my Theo, and that freedom to paint has been the greatest gift anyone has ever given me. Thank you my dear wife, I love you very much, and I will always work as hard as possible to earn the faith you've put in me.

To my parents - I am sure that the fathers and mothers of lawyers and accountants never have to ask themselves the hard questions that the father or mother of an artist does. It is a difficult thing to assent to your child going into one of the most difficult ways of life that is out there. It would be easier to have a child do something conventional, and acceptable - and it is only great character that allows a parent to see that they have a little artist on their hands, and there is no use in fighting it. We should be thankful that Michelangelo's dad didn't steal his brushes and chisels, and instead sent him to study art. My study was my own, but my parents allowed me to do it. Thanks to my dad Billy Myers for always caring enough to make sure I was fed and out of trouble. For putting a few bucks in my pocket and some gas in the car and offering his encouragement. It was my dad who told me that "nobody who never quit ever failed" and I remembered it. Thanks dad. Thanks to my Mom also who allowed me to make my first sketches in her old sketchbooks from the 1970s. My mom was my first exposure to art, and she was never more at home than when she had a charcoal pencil in her hand and a sketchpad in front of her. My mom drew people too, not just silly sketches of stick figures. She did fine portraits that I still remember and look back on. Her paintings of flowers are always in my mind as I do my own. And in my studio, just above my easel is my mom's version of Van Gogh's famous Irises.

Thanks to my lovely grandma, Shirley Hoyle, who actually was brave enough to buy the first works that anyone ever paid me for. According to market prices on my paintings now - I dare say she made a pretty smart investment :), but she indulged my love of art and she introduced me to the fine feeling one gets when they learn that someone has paid their hard-earned money for one of your works.

To my brother, Will Myers - thanks for not killing me that day you rammed my head thru the bedroom wall. (In all fairness, we were fighting and I'm sure my big mouth had something to do with it) I've since been accused of being hard headed and can't really dispute that. It might just be that when I look at the world around me and see skies carved and brushed in thick paint - that I may be experiencing after effects of breaking a wall with my head. If so, I guess I should thank you Mr. Will. I may owe it all to you and not even know it :)

One a more serious note, I would have to make a special mention of thanks to my friend and mentor M. Jean-Claude Quilici. Jean-Claude provided the most useful thing a man in his position could have - he offered encouragement, support, good humor, and the shining example that painting is indeed a craft, which one learns over time, and often with difficulty. He clearly understood how much I loved his work, and did all he could to send me books, show invitations, posters, letters, cards, and much more. When I got the distinct feeling that other people felt that being an artist was a dead end deal - I always had the example of Jean-Claude to think of as a counterbalance - a man of great success who persisted in the search for his own path in the light of the Provencal masters. I am here to declare that I think that Jean-Claude Quilici is the greatest living artist, period - and I can not be convinced otherwise. Jean-Claude helped me to understand that something could be both beautiful and original - and that painting could be a great exultation of life and the world around us. I have been a very privileged person to actually know and be friends with my favorite artist I've ever discovered. What a great privilege to be able to say that.

Right next to Jean-Claude I must thank the other Quilici, M. Augustin Quilici, French professor at Lenoir-Rhyne University. He did more than just introduce me to his cousin's work, he also became a great friend and mentor. He offered his own generous but critical eye in the formative years of my experiments in oil painting. He bought some of my earliest works that were decent enough to look at, and I was greatly encouraged by him. He also nudged me to go to Europe, which I did in 1996 - an experience which I was not prepared for, but which I am very happy that I had. Because of that, I walked the streets of Arles, and St Remy, Paris and countless other amazing places. I saw works that blew my mind in the Musee d'Orsay and the Louvre. Most of all, what I learned from Augustin Quilici was a devoted passion for the creative arts, literary and artistic. I am also convinced that Augustin Quilici has a painter hibernating inside him - because I will let the world know that he too paints. His "Pont Neuf" that hung in his office at Lenoir Rhyne in North Carolina was a fine piece. And perhaps one day he will take up his palette and show us the other Quilici - artiste-peintre, that I know is out there.

Two other professors at Lenoir-Rhyne also provided great encouragement and friendship; Dr Bohdan Kuropas, and Dr Werner Schultz. I thank both of them for their friendship and love of art that they were all too kind in sharing. Both of these gentlemen have early Neil Myers works in their collections, and I hope they still enjoy them.

To Steven Morse; many thanks for the countless long conversations about art, for your passion for creativity and our friendship that has lasted since the 6th grade! Some artists are craftsmen with a hammer - and some with brushes.

To Judy Murphy; my entire Southwestern art career goes back to that day in 2003 when I showed a few images to her at Rosequist Gallery in Tucson, and she said immediately "Can you bring me these paintings this afternoon?" For all the "No's" that one gets in the art business, Judy had the foresight to say yes, and my success all traces back to her belief in me, when I was nothing but one more newcomer artist who had just arrived in Tucson.

I have to also thank the countless gallery directors who have shown and sold my work, who have supported me and offered me their encouragement and backing; firstly Max Mikesell, of the Max Gallery, who took me on board in 2005 staring at the works for a long time and saying "I would like to represent your work." Thanks also other gallery directors, Mesia Huttner, from Cobalt Fine Arts. Linda and David Sherer, from the LeKAE gallery, Drew from the LeKae Gallery, Anothny Sobin from Taos Fine Art - and others who have show my work around America.

One can have all the talent in the world, but they will not get all they can from it if they don't realize that their success has a lot to do with other people. When I look back over the last 6 years, that is the one thing that stands out. Time and time again, other people stepped forward and supported me and my work - and I dare say much of what I have done would not have been possible without all this wonderful support.

And I must save the last thank you for the collectors who have bought and supported my work. I once told a collector from Casa Grande, AZ, that the greatest gift someone gives the artist when they buy his or her work is that they put a little bread on the table and that allows an artist to keep working. I appreciate the passion of all the collectors around America who have been there for me year after year. You allow me to continue my work, and to me, there is no greater happiness that the new world created on blank canvas. Thank you all.

I hope everyone will come join me at the Max Gallery from 5-9pm on January 16th. This will be the largest group of works I've ever shown, and I'll be very happy to meet everyone and thank them myself for their support.

For a full online preview of the Max Gallery show, log on to .