“There's just something beautiful about walking on snow that nobody else has walked on.”
Snow days were the best as a kid. How could you not love spending a school day building snowmen, sledding, having snowball fights, and making snow angels? As an adult, it's much easier to get annoyed with the chores a snow day brings, like having to shovel the driveway, digging your car out of a snow bank or the stress of driving on the icy roads. But why focus on the negative when we can put on our snow boots and go out to enjoy the beautiful snowy weather?
As an artist and photographer, I look forward to snow days. Snow turns the grimy, gray days of winter into a beautiful landscape of white.
“Welcome, winter. Your late dawns and chilled breath make me lazy, but I love you nonetheless.”
Mankind has always celebrated the Winter and Summer Solstice. Think of Stonehenge and numerous places in North America where Native Americans would mark and celebrate the solstices. It is winter, but it is natures birth of the New Year.
Happy Winter Solstice.
“Everything that is made beautiful and fare and lovely is made for the eye of one who sees.” -Rumi
“You must give everything to make your life as beautiful as the dreams that dance in your imagination” -Roman Payne
I love the Ozarks. I love its rugged hills, valleys and crystal-clear streams. I love its clear blue sky and it's green, green forests. The Ozarks molded me, intoxicated me, and seduced me. I’ve moved around, but I’ve never moved out of the Ozarks. I never will.
I’ve been photographing, painting and drawing MY OZARKS since my high school years. Now I want to share it with you. Join me on a journey, both back in time and into the future, as I share with you "My Ozarks" in future blog posts, on my website and through social media.
Let' start the adventure at Hawksbill Crag at the very head of the Buffalo National River, in NW Arkansas. Hawk's Bill Point is a small rocky point where you can overlook the entire headwaters of the Buffalo River. If you hike a couple hundred yards you can get this dramatic view of the point and the overhang. It is at least a hundred feet to the ground below. This painting is based on a photograph taken in the early 1980's and recreated as a painting in 2013.
Notice that autumn is more the season of the soul than of nature. - Friedrich Nietzsche
It’s going to be a beautiful weekend to drive down to Elephant Rocks and Johnson
Shut-Ins. Sunny, but cool both Saturday and Sunday. You can spend the day exploring the autumn colors then join me for an exhibit and reception of my paintings,
PAINTING ELEPHANT ROCKS – ONE YEAR, THIRTY PAINTINGS.
On Saturday, November 2nd, there will be reception at the Battle of Pilot Knob Historic Site (five miles from Elephant Rocks) from 4pm to 7pm. Come see my exhibition. Free snacks, drinks and good conversation.
On November 3rd, from 1 to 3PM, I will give a talk about my experiences spending a year photographing and painting Elephant Rocks. I will discuss how to photograph the rocks through the seasons, what time is the best, what to look for in a photograph and then how to turn the photos into paintings. If you have photos or paintings of Elephant Rocks bring them along to share and discuss.
Paintings of Elephant Rocks State Park is a new series of landscapes created over the past year by artist Garry McMichael. It is a series of paintings of a unique granite geological formation located in the Arcadia Valley about 1.5 hours south of St Louis. There is nothing quite like this rock-strewn landscape anywhere else in Missouri or Mid America. Giant boulders of pink granite rocks appear all over the landscape and in the nearby Ozark hardwood forest. Throughout the centuries, green and gray lichens and mosses have only added to their shape, texture and beauty. It's a painting project I’ve been working on for over a year to capture the state park throughout the seasons.
PAINTING ELEPHANT ROCKS – ONE YEAR, THIRTY PAINTINGS will be on display from November 1st through 30th. Additional Elephant Rocks paintings will also on exhibit at the Fort Davidson Café just across the street from the Historic Site. Good food and wonderful paintings.
Painting Elephant Rocks will be on exhibit
Starting November 1st
At Battle of Pilot Knob Historic Site*
Pilot Knob, Missouri
Exhibit will run from November 1st to 30th
Reception, November 2nd 4:00pm to 7:00pm
* located 5 miles from Elephant Rocks State Park
Energy Vortex's are really within each of us. If you want to experience an energy vortex all you need is a quiet place where you can hear your heart and feel a breeze on your face. That’s what Elephant Rocks offers. It's a far better place.
As far back as he can remember, he has had an interest in rocks and geology. “Rocks have personalities, just as family and friends do; rocks are people I know,” he said. “Some are bright, colorful and make me laugh. Others are secretive, dark and foreboding, keeping all their secrets to themselves. Some rocks are as smooth as a new baby’s skin, while others have sharp edges and carry the scars of a million years.
“Some rocks work together, forming teams, stacking together, while others are loners. Like people, rocks fail, they crack, they slowly erode and they break under natures heavy hand. But don’t ever underestimate a rock. They have strength and the ability to endure in a way that people can only wish for. We can learn a lot from rocks,” he added.
As an avid student of still life painters and their subjects, McMichael said he is always intrigued by the subjects that are chosen. Most still life painters select everyday things such as fruit, flowers, simple utensils and kitchenware.
“In the 18th century, it wasn’t uncommon for painters to create paintings of the game (rabbit, quail, fish) they hunted for nourishment. They would often include their trusty musket and knives in the paintings.
One of Garry’s favorite still life painters is Giorgio Morandi, a well-known Italian still life painter whose subject was wine bottles, tin cans, bricks and simple boxes, all painted white, gray or black. He painted hundreds of them in his little apartment by the light coming in his windows. They were all titled Natura Morta, with the year each was painted as part of the title. Georgia O’Keeffe was famous for painting bones, horns and antlers, with and without the New Mexico landscape.
“I first saw rocks stacked on top of each other on a Canadian fishing trip,” McMichael said. “They are called ‘cairns,’ and have been used for centuries to mark a trail. I saw them again as works of art stacked on the North Shores of Lake Superior.”
Like Morandi and O’Keeffe, he was immediately attracted to painting these cairns because of their simplicity, textures and gracefulness. Not only does he paint them as still-lifes, he’s beginning to see them as part of the landscape, and rocks in general, as the landscape.
Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work. ― Stephen King
Let me tell you about “talent”. In college, I had a close friend who was also a photographer and very “talented”, maybe more talented than I. We both loved NW Arkansas and the Buffalo River County. We literally spent weeks floating the river together. Through the years we went separate directions becoming professional photographers. He moved to Jasper, Arkansas near the Buffalo River where he earned a living doing photography and other odd jobs, but only did what was needed to get by. He liked smoking pot and drinking Arkansas moonshine a wee bit.
I too, moved to Arkansas. I worked every day, first for a newspaper and then as a freelance photographer for national editorial magazines. One day I got a call from National Geographic contracting me to spend a week photographing the autumn colors of the hardwood forests in the Buffalo National River region. To work for National Geographic and photograph the fall colors of the most beautiful place in the Ozarks was a dream of a life time.
Since my old friend lived near the Buffalo River I dropped by telling him of my assignment and asked if he would like to spend a couple days together as I worked in the area. I told him where I would be camping and asked him to join me that evening.
He did join me, and on a cool crisp autumn evening we had dinner by the campfire, reliving old times and drinking just a bit too much. Later in the evening my friend informed me I didn’t deserve to be doing this assignment. After all, he was more talented, a better photographer than I, and he knew the Buffalo region better. He’s proclaimed he should be shooting for National Geographic. Never mind I had been sending samples of my work and developing a relationship with National Geographic for years, just hoping to get this opportunity. It was an uneasy moment, and we were old friends. I let his comments slide as we decided to call it quits for the night. But the next morning I suggested this wasn’t going to work out and we needed go separate ways. I would go on to do several more assignments for National Geographic. My friend was killed in car accident a few years later.
So much for “talent”. It’s totally worthless unless you are willing to put a lot of effort into it.
To see More of my American Landscapes
Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping… -Simon and Garfunkel
I am so fortunate. God gave me the gift of imagination. All my life I’ve seen ideas, opportunities, things that others don’t. As an artist I can go to a location and see subjects, compositions, light, color, and contrast as few do. It’s not just talent and training, it’s a gift.
But imagination, concepts and ideas are just half the battle. The secret is “follow through”. Concepts and ideas without “follow through” have no value. Consider an entrepreneur, like the late Steve Jobs, without follow through Apple wouldn’t exist. Show me one person whose life hasn’t been affected by the follow through of Steve Jobs.
It’s the same with artists. Monet’s Water Lilies would not exist without his obsession to paint them. The same can be said about the hundreds of paintings of Norman Rockwell’s nostalgic Americana, or Georgia O’Keeffe’s Southwest Landscapes, or Mark Bradford’s contemporary America. Follow through, it’s the gift of all great artists.
Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again…
Why do I paint rocks? Don’t think of them as rocks. They have personality just as family and friends do; rocks are people I know. Some are bright, colorful and make me laugh. Others are secretive, dark and foreboding, keeping all their secrets to themselves. Some rocks are as smooth as a new baby’s skin while others have sharp edges and carry the scars of a million years. Some rocks work together, forming teams, stacking together, leaning on each other, while others are loners. Like people, rocks fail, they crack, they slowly erode and they break under natures heavy hand. But don’t ever under estimate a rock. They have strength and the ability to endure people can only wish for. We can learn a lot from rocks.
"Whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done” -Van Gogh
Seeking perfection is part of the process being a great artist.
Purchase Double Arch Cairn
"An arch consists of two weaknesses, leaning one against another, make a strength." -Leonardo da Vinci
In my search for Cairns I sometimes come across stone arches. Far more complicated than stacking stones, arches require more dexterity and patience to build. In my few attempts to build an arch, I have found myself wishing I had three hands. I think I’ll stick to painting them.
Perhaps Arches should be built by a couple or as a family project which would seem appropriate. An arch built of rocks is like a family. Every rock/everyone supports each other, and as in a family, everyone works to make the family whole. Engineers may talk of the importance of a “keystone”, but in my mind every stone in the arch is the keystone. Take one out and you may still be able to build an arch, but it is much diminished.
"Building Trust” is a painting based on a rock arch I found on a Huzzah Creek gravel bar in the middle of the Missouri Ozarks. Built by someone whose patience I can only appreciate.
Today a fellow artist accused me of being obsessed with painting rocks. My immediate response was, “No! I’m in the process of creating a body of work.” But of course, my friend is right. Here are a few thoughts reflecting on obsession and creativity.
“Be obsessed or be average.” -Grant Cardone
“Until your mission is an obsession, nothing will change.” -Robin Sharma
“A great artist has a unique vision – obsession. They are someone willing to fail flamboyantly.” -Jerry Saltz
“When passion meets inspiration, an obsession is born.” -Anonymous
“Good requires motivation, great requires obsession.” -M. Cobanli
“Your job is to get your audience to care about your obsessions.” -Martin Scorsese
“Follow your most intense obsession mercilessly.” -Frank Kafka
“To succeed, work hard, never give up and above all cherish a magnificent obsession.” -Walt Disney
“Obsessed is a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.” -Anonymous
“May your obsessions be impassioned and long lived.” -Garry McMichael
Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do. -Edgar Degas
“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” Andy Warhol
"So Garry, just how long have you been an Artist?"
Since the day I could scribble with a pencil or a crayon. I have a photo of myself with a Kodak Brownie hanging around my neck when I was nine. I took my camera everywhere. When I was a high school senior I illustrated a student literary book with my drawings. I loved being a student photographer. It gave me the opportunity to get out of class to take photos of other students and activities for the yearbook.
A camera in my hands was like wearing a protective coat of armor. Photography helped me to overcome my shyness, approach other students, especially girls, and develop relationship skills that many students don’t learn until later in life.
Photography also helped me to develop a life-long love for the outdoors, nature and the Missouri/Arkansas Ozarks in particular. Today the American landscape is an integral part of my art. Our clear running streams and green-forested hills are a treasure to behold and a challenge to paint.
I plan to take photos and paint until the day I die. How long do you plan to be an artist?
Wintering Elephant Rocks If you want to have Elephant Rocks State Park all to yourself then explore it in the winter. A unique granite geological formation found in the St. Francis Mountains of the Missouri Ozarks. There is nothing quite like this rock-strewn landscape anywhere else in Missouri or Mid-America. Giant boulders of pink granite rocks thrown all over the landscape and hardwood forest. Throughout the centuries green and gray lichens and mosses have only added to their shape, texture and color.
To see my newest painting series Elephant Rocks
Like a sandcastle, all is temporary. Build it,
tend it, enjoy it. And when the time comes let it go.
– Jack Kornfield
This is more than a cairn. It’s a Rock Castle I found late one evening on Lake Superior's rocky shore. I love the makers creative design. This person is building more than a cairn, they are building a dream. Unfortunately, as a photographer, I found the late evening light disappointing. I photographed it anyway, but later, when creating this painting I changed the lighting to bring out the textures and shapes of the stacked rocks.
The art of this cairn builder inspired me. I consider Rock Castle to be a collaboration with another artist I've never met.
It’s very simple. Look, scissors cuts paper, paper covers rock, rock crushes lizard, lizard poisons Spock, Spock smashes scissors, scissors decapitates lizard, lizard eats paper, paper disproves Spock, Spock vaporizes rock, and as it always has been rock crushes scissors. -The Big Bang Theory
That’s not very simple. Maybe life is becoming too complex for me. A phone ringing in my pocket, a wrist watch that monitors my heart, and all that crap on “social media”. And on television, a show about really brainy people who don’t have enough sense to know when to come out of the rain. What happened to a simple walk in the woods, or reading a newspaper while sitting on a toilet?
I know the Big Bang Theory is funny, but life is not that complicated. Lord, give me an opportunity to walk in the woods, and build a cairn so others can follow.
Cairns represent a trail marker that guides one through uncertain areas of life. They Provide guidance, hope, balance, continuity, and confidence on the journey down the path of life. -John P. Kreamer
Cairns are rocks stacked on top of each other. It takes at least three rocks to make a cairn. All over the world, from ancient times until present, from mountains to deserts and distant coasts, people have built cairns. Sometimes they mark a trail, a significant place or tomb, serve as communication, have a religious meaning or an artistic purpose.
Cairns are built with careful effort - they don't just appear randomly in nature. Stones don't drop out of the sky and stack themselves naturally into stable structures. Only man can make a cairn and only man can give it meaning.
Supporting Our Dream is a painting of a simple cairn, but I see much more. I envision it as a couple, precariously leaning on each other to support their dream, whether it be a family, children, an adventure, or something special only to them.
“Balance is not something you find, it's something
you create.” - Jana Kingsford
Cairns have become a personal symbol in my quest to live a
well-balanced life. You start with a solid foundation stone and build from there. Day-by-day, year-by-year, we build our inner cairn constantly balancing the many facets of our lives – personal pursuits, professional goals, relationships, order, rhythm and harmony. When they are out of balance our cairn falls down. Failure? No, but we must rebuild our cairn all over again. When our life is balanced we feel it. Balance is an internal state.
When I come across someone else’s cairn, sitting strong on the edge of a great lake, or precariously on a windswept promontory, I know I have found another seeker searching for balance in their lives. Seeing these creative stacks of rocks created and left behind by others, inspires my paintings. I consider these paintings to be collaborations with seekers I’ve never met.
The painting, Cairn in the Morning Mist, was inspired by a cairn built a couple feet offshore in Lake Superior near Grand Marais, Minnesota. The sun was just rising through the early morning mist.
So why would you want to paint rocks?
Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on an Ozark Creek gravel bar picking up ancient smooth stones and throwing them in the fast flowing stream “Plunk". Pick up another one. "Plunk", the sound of the rock splashing in the water. My mother said I would spend hours entertaining myself tossing those rocks.
At about nine years old on a family vacation out west I went into my first rock shop and truly discovered the beauty of rocks. Rocks have color, shape, texture, weight and strength; the very same characteristics I try to capture in paintings today.
I saw my very first cairn on a fishing trip to Canada. We were driving along a gravel road and about every mile or so there would be a stack of rocks along the side of the road. Stopping at a gas station the attendant explained they are "cairns", used to mark trails and guide people to their destinations.
The natural world and the environment have always been a powerful influence in my art, but so has man and our relationship to the environment. A rock is nature, but it can be a trail marker, a man can stack rocks and turn them into a symbol, a fence, a shelter or even an exquisite sculpture. It is where nature and man come together I create may best paintings.
North shore Cairn is one of my earliest paintings, inspired by cairns found on Lake Superior. My goal was to work with a monochromatic palette where the lighting, values and texture are key. In Northshore Cairn you can see the heavy influence of the mid 20thcentury photographers, Edward Weston, Alfred Stieglitz and Ansel Adams.