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Gene Myers: Abstract Meditations on the 14 Stations of the Cross

Exhibition Opening: Friday, April 19, 2019

NYA Gallery

7 Franklin Place, New York

April 13, 2019

NYA Gallery is pleased to present a solo exhibition of fourteen works by Gene Myers (1929-2013) from the Mario Radosta Collection. Curated by Shane Townley, the exhibition will focus on the late artist’s interpretation and translation of the devotional exercise common in several Christian denominations. The canvases were completed across the late 1970s and early 1980s, after Myers’ robust career in a number of dance companies in New York, Atlantic City, and Las Vegas. The Stations of the Cross or Way of the Cross is a tradition that has helped pious pilgrims and parishioners visualize and internalize the pain and agony endured by Christ along his progression from the place of judgment (Pontius Pilate’s court) to the site of crucifixion. Historically, within the Western canon of art, devotional images of the Stations of the Cross were rendered in varying naturalistic, figurative styles in order to help facilitate intense psychological connections between viewer and the divine.

Gene Myers, Stations of the Cross, late 1970s, early 1980s.  Oil and acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches.

Gene Myers, Stations of the Cross, late 1970s, early 1980s. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches.

While still figuratively based, Myers’ canvases contain abstract figures and architectural details, providing a base level of visual detail to help viewers identify the precise biblical scene within the larger cycle. Through abbreviated strokes, Myers conveys a sense of energy and movement that animates the figures while concurrently encouraging devotees to move from one station to the next in order to follow the narrative action. Aside from subject matter, the images across this series are united by the consistent use of ochre, white, peach, and blue. In later stations, the painter incorporates bolder colors, like pink and green. Myers has a loose stylistic affinity with the 20th-century abstract painter Arshile Gorky, particularly in how he uses biomorphic forms and dynamic lines. The colorful blotches and smears of paint in some of the images resemble clouds, calling to mind apotheosis or ascension imagery. Despite the lack of facial expressions, Myers is able to communicate a fair degree of emotion through his outlines.

Gene Myers, Stations of the Cross, late 1970s, early 1980s.  Oil and acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches.

Gene Myers, Stations of the Cross, late 1970s, early 1980s. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches.

Perhaps what is most intriguing about Myers’ abstract representation of the Stations of the Cross is how the lack of detail has consequences for how viewers interact or engage with his set of images. On one hand, it provides contemporary viewers the chance to imagine themselves as participants within each narrative vignette of the biblical saga since there are no distinguishing facial features. On the other hand, it prompts onlookers to complete the visualization of the scene, and in doing so actively take part in the re-construction, re-imagination of the poignant biblical tale. This participatory aspect to the work is enhanced by the flat composition, which presses each scene close to the viewer’s space and acts as a portal between the mortal and divine realms.

Gene Myers, Stations of the Cross, late 1970s, early 1980s. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches.

Gene Myers, Stations of the Cross, late 1970s, early 1980s. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches.

Gene Myers: Abstract Meditations on the 14 Stations of the Cross will open on Friday, April 19th (Good Friday) and remain on view throughout the paschal season and beyond. Visitors may see the exhibition during its run Monday through Sunday between the hours 12-5pm. For more information, please call (917) 472-9015 or email press@newyorkart.com.  

GENE MYERS

Born in Michigan, Myers discovered his interest in dance early on. At a young age, he studied ballet, tap, Spanish dance, and acrobatics. Myers’ theatrical debut was in Calvegatte, being the only American dancer in the Madrid-based company. This successful performance led to his appearance in The East Indian Dancing Trio. Myers’ emergence on a Broadway stage came with Call Me Madame, which starred Ethel Merman. During his time in New York, the dancer was part of Pajama Game, Kiss Me Kate, Canterbury Tales, and many others. Toward the end of his career, he was a dance soloist at Radio City Music Hall. Between theater engagements in New York, Myers took classes at the Art Student League, studying under Robert Phillips.

In addition to performances in New York, Myers was also part of productions in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, many times opening for high-profile entertainers such as Jimmy Durante, Sammy Davis Jr., and Tito Puente. While in Las Vegas, Myers worked for Debbie Reynolds, The Sony and Cher Show, and George Tapps, opening for Frank Sinatra, Enzio Pinza, and Paul Anka. Over the years, Myers made his rounds on a number of television programs, such as Greenwich Village, several Perry Como specials, The Show of Shows with Sid Caesar, and The Milton Berle Show.

Throughout Myers’ performative career, he frequently sketched and painted. Eventually, the performer and artist took a sabbatical from dance in order to dedicate more time to his painting practice. Later in life, he is recorded as saying that the “…action of dance, and the brush strokes of painting upon the canvas in my spirit are one.”