Sunday, November 6, 2016

Fall in the Arizona Desert

The Arizona desert, with its brutal heat and unforgiving landscape, is unlike other places which are so often associated with what is ideal and beautiful in the outdoors.  In Arizona we live for the Fall and Winter seasons - we live for that relief that comes when the days are still warm and the nights are cool.  The few deciduous trees that line certain streams and valleys turn orange and red and drop their leaves.  Snakes and scorpions find somewhere to hide, and the great outdoors isn't quite the fearful place it is for so much of the hot part of the year.  And for the artist, it is a chance to be outside and truly experience the desert without the searing heat of the sun cutting short your plans.

The painting above is one of my recent favorites.  It is called "When the Desert Comes to Life" (It is a 24 x 30 inch oil on canvas, currently available at Cobalt Fine Arts in Tubac ).  This painting catches a very unique moment, usually in October, when we get a fall bloom of flowers in some of the lowlands in Catalina State Park.  They bloom below these magnificent stands of Giant Saguaros - giving a splash of color, and even a sense of the revival of vegetal life as winter approaches.  The fall blooms in Arizona are very distinct.  Not perhaps as striking as the spring blooms - but still very present - creating scenes of pictorial power and curiosity, as winter approaches.  I took the image this painting was made from on the Sutherland trail, only a few feet away from where I painted another one of my best paintings - that one titled "The Flowers of Fall."  Many of my works feature spring scenes and colorful hues - and thankfully, our fall blooms in Arizona also give an artist to explore these landscapes with the same contentment in his brush than that which he or she feels in April or May.

I have often said that when you are in the presence of Giant Saguaros, they feel like a plant that is almost anthropomorphic.   You can stand on a hillside of Saguaros and if you listen to the wind whipping through their needles and allow them to tower over you - you have the curious feeling that you are not alone.  Nature, through these towering cacti, looks down approvingly on these desert fields carpeted with flowers - rising up to greet the cool nights and the tepid air of winter.  These same plants and their ancestors would have towered over the Hohokam and the Apaches as they made their way through these harsh lands - and they too must have felt the power of these ancient plants.

Though I realize that the feeling may be only in my own mind - I doubt that this is so.  The feeling that every stroke, even one of an expressionist painting created in 2016, is connected to all those who felt strongly in the past - and who tried to represent their scenes with whatever methods they could.  Standing on Signal Hill outside Tucson with my older son, I made the connection between those ancient artists who carved petroglyphs into a barren, rocky hill protruding up from the desert - and people like me, pouring their souls into new works of art and new expressions with roots in the very same place.

I encourage everyone to do your part and support the arts in your community.  I will be a part of a Luminaria show next month in Tubac, and have works on display at Cobalt Fine Arts - which is a great place to visit during either the Fall Arts Festival in Tubac, the Luminaria show, or the Festival of the Arts in February.  Happy fall - I hope we can all hit the trails and get outside - for our health, for our sanity, and for our art...


Neil Myers show at Cobalt Fine Arts during the Luminaria nights

Tubac Festival of the Arts


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Eternal Spring and the Search for Color and Meaning

                    "The Symphony of Spring II" 30 x 40 in.  Available at the Marshall Gallery

I once joked to a friend by saying "It's always Spring in my works!"  And for many years that lighthearted observation has been true.  Despite whatever our general impression of the environment of the Sonoran Desert may be, the desert does present something of a monotonous face for much of the year.  No, that is not to say that there isn't life and change big and small - but the most brilliant explosion of color occurs in the Spring.

I latched on to the theme of Spring and how it is all pervasive in my work.  On the one hand, it was done with the idea to simply capture the Spring colors - when the yellows and blues and purples of the desert explode to life and the colors greet the arrival of warm days - leading into hot summer.  On the other hand my embrace of Spring themes in my work had also to do with the realization of how happy I was painting nature in a state of maximum color.  I began to realize that shadows weren't even shadows - they too had amazing color potential, and gradually all segments of the canvas brightened.  Until a tension was reached that left many of the paintings bathed in yellows, draped in flowers, and moving with color.

This painting "The Symphony of Spring II" is a derivation from a scene in one of Paul Gill's photographs ( Which I use with permission - and I remind all artists to seek the permission of the photographer before working from someone else source materiel )  Paul Gill has long struck me as one of Arizona's finest artists working in any medium - his being that of the camera.  His work has been featured in Arizona Highways Magazine, and he is one of the most respected Arizona photographers.  I was so very fortunate to strike up a friendship with him that has been fueled by art - some from the camera, some from the brush.  When I met Paul at a show opening in Scottsdale some time ago - he was so very happy to see artwork having been made from his photographs.  Early in his career he wanted to be a painter - and then transitioned to photography.  But he still sees scenes as a painter would, and I have no doubt that informs the excellence in his photography.

When I work from a photograph, as I did in this case, I take the most bare, basic outlines of the photo and use it primarily for the sketch of the painting.  In this case, if you were to see the photograph you likely wouldn't identify the painting that came from it.  I use the sketch and then I deviate completely using only basic details.  As I have matured as an artist, I find strangely that I don't stick to the sketch as tightly as I used to.  In fact, the early sketch and source photograph probably only informs 15 to 20 % of the total image.  The rest is imagination.  I feel often that I am imagining "against" the scene.  I confront the image and make in interpretation that is part emotion, part structure.  And in recent years, more emotion than anything else.

"The Symphony of Spring II " captures a wealth of sentiments that are my internal treasures.  The deep blues that seem to speak of sky and ocean and shadow.  The yellows that emerge with all life during the Springtime in the Sonoran Desert.  All the renderings of contrast - the colors against an inky, ivory black.  And the sense that a special time of year has arrived.  When a brutal land of heat and spikes and stinging insects undergoes the change that ushers in the Summer.  I have been many times into fields of poppies such as this - several of the trails of Catalina State Park have beautiful carpets of Mexican Gold Poppies during the Spring.  I've seen my kids playing with these little flowers - and seen the excitement of hikers who have hit the trails to experience this special time of year.

This painting also reminds me of something said by my mentor and friend Jean-Claude Quilici.  He said "A painting articulates itself by contrast."  And the entire foreground speaks to this principle - as it was first a painting in a pitch dark, shiny ivory black.  The entire lower half of the painting - and then one by one the flowers and details painted on top of this contrasting element.  It might well be that all things arise out of the darkness.  Something that informs our deepest primitive part of the brain - all light against darkness.  All emerged, created against that deep black.  Like the stars upon the deep black of space, or a candle in the dark.  Life created against non life - created almost in spite of it.

Most all my paintings make me very happy - this one was a standout.  It hummed with contrast and color as it emerged on canvas.  And if you'd like to see it, I invite you to visit the Marshall Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ to see this and other works.  It's a goal of mine to write more about my paintings going forward - because even I realize that there is a story behind every painting.  And it is a healthy thing to pause and remember the life of a painting as it relates to the internal visions of the artist.

One of the great joys of my life has been the constant compliment of having had my work bought and  collected for so many years.  With amazing galleries to support me, fantastic collectors who buy my work regularly, as well as magazines and books who've written about it - I remain always deeply grateful to be able to be an artist, and to dream with abandon countless Spring scenes.  Thank you!


Marshall Gallery, Scottsdale 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Artist at 40, And the Art of Growing up on Canvas

It has been a long time since I have published an art work has always taken precedent whenever I had free time - and I also run a survivors group for people who have had Schwannoma tumors, as I have had.  Throw two kids into the mix and busy is the word - but I wanted to step back in and write a little more...

Last September I turned 40.  And I remembered a quote that I heard attributed to the artist Thomas Hart Benton, where he was reported to have said "The life of the artist is great, if you can just get through the first 40 years of it."  I think this is a very wise observation.  In much of the professional world you are expected to be well on your way by at least the age of 30.  Art has a strange kind of gravity that seems to force a longer maturation period....

In 2005 I was selected by Southwest Art Magazine to be one of the young American artists to watch that year.  And for a period of time articles or mentions of me had much to do with my age.  I was in fine arts galleries by my late twenties - and then was noted as being a young artist to keep your eye on.  But now at the age of 40, I find myself at a curious tipping point, in my own eyes, and the eyes of others.  Not old by any stretch - not young either.  And by no means still able to call myself a "Young artist."  The grey hairs thick in my beard give the game away some time ago.  And that's ok - I accept it and wouldn't change it.

I said to my wife the other day that if I were to die tomorrow I would have no regrets as an artist.  I would have regrets as a father, because both of my children are young - and the same kind of regret at the idea of leaving my dear wife too early.  But for my art, I would have no regrets.

Thinking back over it all, I realize that I was no prodigy.  I made shaky drawings as a young man - and only made improvements that came slowly, painfully, and with time.  But when they came I realized it, and so did others.  That x-factor became present in my life - that being, the regard of others for my work.  I still struggle to realize how highly some people regard my paintings.  One collector I know has 12 of them.  Others have 5 or 6.  As time has passed, the fact that I have sold a great many works hasn't pumped me with arrogance - but it has filled me with the confidence of my own visions.  I found a style that I enjoy and I work in that style.  I don't try to reinvent the wheel....rather, I try to make the one I myself made roll - as well as possible.  The overwhelming feeling of gratitude is what I am often left with.  I feel like the fate of things could have landed on any other person, but it landed on me.  And I worked and worked and worked on it - and for it.  I have never assumed anything for granted.  I have doe everything I could to squeeze the very marrow of meaning out of oil paint and canvas.  Subsequently, I have grown up on canvas - from the time of first being noticed nationally, in my late twenties, until where I am now.

The other thing I do differently now is that I rely more on inner vision.  My paintings look less like the photographs they are often sketched from - they are wild departures that often can't be matched to the photographs I've used to inspire them.  What measure of success I have managed, it has simply told me "go forward" when ideas fill my mind's eye.  I make the kind of paintings that I want to exist.  I don't follow anyone - except perhaps my friend Jean-Claude Qulici and a still abiding need to occasionally leaf through the works for Vincent Van Gogh.  The roots of the tree, in that regard - haven't moved.

If being 40 years old has taught me anything, it is the permission to bring inner visions to life.  The hesitations are mostly gone.  If I see an image in my head - I try to paint it.

Like Picasso, I have often believed that children were the truest of artists.  They make art without the legion of hangups and pre-conceptions that weigh down the adult act of making art.  That's why I am soon to likely take on my first art student - a 2nd grade girl who wants to paint with me.  And I am seriously considering teaching only children.  There lies the chance to plant the courage of convictions for the next generations of artists...

So it goes.  There was no crisis as I hit the age of 40.  Just a sense of satisfaction and happiness.   I hope that I am still here to say something about what it means to be 50, 60, or 70 - but whatever the case, I am grateful to be here now - and mainly concerned with being here now in the best possible way that I can.  I've grown up on canvas - just as much as I have grown up in the world.  The world needs a little beauty and color - and I should only be grateful to have had the chance to make my own mark into filling that need.  It has been amazing - and I thank all my dear friends, family, and collectors who have seen in the work what I hoped they would.  What we believe about ourselves is one thing.  What others make of us is often another.  I have had the good fortune and the faith of many others who enjoyed my work - and thus gave me the outlet to say what I needed to say in color and brushstrokes.

So here's to the next ten years - glittering canvases and unforgettable experiences - and undying hope for the better
and for the beautiful...

- Neil