To create one’s own world takes courage.” Georgia O’Keeffe
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.
To See more of My Mystic Cairns
"Whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done” -Van Gogh
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.