Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man
By Grier Horner
March 14, 2017
When the troops of Jin assembled on the banks of the Huaihe River to launch one of their countless battles against the Song Dynasty did they tremble in dread of the Song's gunpowder-fueled rockets, ceramic missles fashioned by the regimes best potters? Would they fall on the soldiers in a rain of terror?
In his show potter Dan Bellow (above) of Great Barrington would have you believe the soldiers did quake in fear. On a wall by his show, Dan has posted the historical background for his beautiful porcelain rockets. The history starts this way:
Song Dynasty Rocketry:
The Untold Story
As a result when they were under attack by the Jin Dynasty, Gaozong moved his dynasty south to get away from his enemies. But it didn't work. They still attacked. His regime was saved, so Bellow's history goes, when Gaozong recognized that gunpowder, invented by the Chinese not long before, would be their salvation. This was the birth of rockets. His best engineers and potters were put to work designing them.
And the Song Dynasty drove away their assailants and lived in peace for years thereafter. All thanks to the ingenuity of Gaozong and his people coming up with weapons like the one below. Dan luckily knew what they looked like based on
a recent gas station excavation that unearthed models of the rockets.
With all this in mind I searched the internet for several hours testing Dan's history against Wikipedia's and the Encyclopedia Britannica's and other sources. (I have to confess a lot of that time was spent reading about his famous father.) I learned a lot about Gaozong and his era but I couldn't find anything on the porcelain rockets. So I emailed Dan.
Could his rockets actually be launched like the emperor's, I asked him
"I wouldn't try it. I want to go on living."
Once you lit the gunpowder, he explained, a ceramic rocket would explode, the material being too weak to handle the pressure.
So much, then, for his history and for the following chunk of it:
After reading that I should have known Dan's history was composed of "alternative facts," as he put it later in the email.
But until the email I bought the story. How could I have been so naive? Come to think of it, I've bought in to fantastic stories before.(See my Oct. 26, 2010 post Anatomy of an Art Scam.)
Dan is the son of the novelist Saul Bellow and Susan Glassman who loved art. Growing up he followed his mother's passion rather than his father's. From fifth grade through college at Wesleyan he loved making pottery.
But when he graduated he told himself he needed a real job. "I became a newspaper reporter."
Landing at the Berkshire Eagle, where I was the associate editor, he became a protege and a good friend.
After the shock of 9/11 in 2001 and of his friend Danny Pearl's murder by terrorists in Pakistan the next year, Dan "decided life was too short not to do what I really wanted."
"I sat back down at the (potter's) wheel and rediscovered my joy," he says in his biography for the show. When you look at his work here in its power and subtle beauty I think you'll agree with me that he made the right decision.
His pottery has enjoyed commercial success and can be found at retailers such as Uncommon Goods and Anthropologie. It has also been sold at galleries and in shops at the Barnes Foundation, Fallingwater, the Santa Barbara Museum,and MASS MoCA
He is a full time porcelain artist and also teaches ceramics at Berkshire Waldorf High School.
"Any time you get paid for making pottery, it's a moral triumph."
His exhibit is at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsield, Massachusetts, through May.
March 8, 2017
Babbie and I look forward every year to the Berkshire Art Association's exhibit of works by the young artists gives fellowships to. Usually it showcases some serious talents. And that was true this year. One thing, however, changed in this show. For the first time I can recall, some of entries were sexually explicit. I find that refreshing because so much of contemporary art is.
Amelia Dougish, a Williams College senior from California, produced the boldest statement in that direction in the self-portrait above. While she did not invent bathtub art, Dougish tapped the form's sensuous potential for all it's worth, adding to the beauty of the body by capturing the agitation of the water and the folds of the immersed yellow material. Additionally, she didn't let the usual svelt-model imperative of this form stop her. The result is
powerful and self affirming.
This work is by Rebecca Schnopp of Dalton, a senior at Lesley University College of Art and Design. Audacious in its use of long steel pins as public hair, it issues a warning: warning that sex has to be consensual that any Donald Trump on a pussy grabbing expedition will pay the price. Have I got it right? Supply your own interpretations at email@example.com. I'll add them to this post if you give me permission and they aren't to raunchy.
Here are some other pieces the two young women have in the show.
These are Dougish's.
These, of course, are Schnopp's. The one on top is of a cushion that only a holy man could rest his head on. She showed a different banana sculpture in the show. But I found this one on the internet and used it instead for no particularly good reason.
Ms. Schnopp was one of the two students to be awarded the BAA's major prize: the Norman and Rose Avnet Fellowship of $1,000.
The other $1,000 recipient was Eli Shalan of West Stockbridge, a junior at Hampshire College. Below are a row of his paintings.
I found this piece fascinating because Shalan used blueprints and specification sheets he found in abandoned mills as the main pieces of the collage.
Wylie Thornquist, a Williams freshman, won my respect with her drawings for passages from the visionary artist William Blake's books. She used his words but came up with her own illustrations like the one below in which she has managed to inhabit his soul.
Erica Wilcoxen, s sophomore at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, exhibited a large drawing that was as arresting as she is. In Coming Apart at the Seams a woman pulls herself apart , exposing the words trapped inside her. Whether releasing the words is perilous as in Pandora's box, or praiseworthy, I can't tell because the only word I can read is "joy" and I forgot to ask the artist. I wish I had taken time to decipher the Connecticut artist's writing.
Here's a piece by Halie Smith, a MCLA junior, that I sold short at first. That changed when I noticed that the flowers, stem and leaves are covered with words, perhaps from the Bible. It is another work I wish I had spent more time with.
Smith also pasted lines from the Bible on the case.
"A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life."
The name of Smith's sculpture is Biblical Femininity. The artist is from Spencer, Massachusetts.
This dramatic painting by Jordan Jones, a Williams junior from Mamaroneck, New York, attracted a lot of attention from the gathering at Friday night's reception.
I asked her if the people inside the circular wall were undocumented immigrants. She said they were not but didn't tell me who they are or what they're doing. I told her it's sometimes smart to let people come to their own conclusions about what's going on. Some years ago a woman was going to buy one of my paintings until I told her what it was about. No sale.
These photos document installations by two Williams students. Above is Moss Brenner-Bryant's cool Nude Descending a Stair (Installation after Duchamps). The San Francisco resident is a sophomore. Below is Alexandra Scarangella's installation Pickle Jar. The jar in the title is stored next to the plumbing pipe. You probably can't see it, and the other foodstuffs there, unless you zoom in on the picture. Scarangella is a Williams junior from Harrington Park, New Jersey.
Quinnton Cooper, a Williams sophomore from Ocala, Florida, showed a three sided installation called Gritty Warmth of a Fun Hou
Cigarettes by Anna Harleen, A Williams junior from San Francisco, catches those Marlboro packages so well you might be tempted to start smoking again. Natalie Bernstein took the great shot below, Dirty Laundry. The Williams senior is from Chicago.
The BAA's fellowship show runs through March 25 at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. It is open to the public without charge from 11 to 4 Wednesdays through Saturdays.
If you like bargains, the show is crammed with them. For instance Wilcoxen's Coming Apart at the Seams and Smith's Biblical Femininity are only $75 each. And you can get Ellyn Pier's 10-foot-wide Wings for $250. Wings is shown here and in the photo at the top of this post.
January 24, 2017
Here are 25 photos from the Swamp Series that I've worked on for several years, producing several thousand photographs. A few of these have been printed already and are available in widths ranging from 48" to 104". But any can be printed to your specifications on size and quality.
To Have and Have Not, 2016, 30"x48", mounted on aluminium.
Taking Flight, 2015.
Queen Anne's Lace, 2016
Strange Light, 2015, 94" wide, printed on heavy vinyl with grommets for hanging.
Red Poppies, 2016, 104" wide, printed on heavy vinyl with grommets.
Blues in the Night, 2015
Christa at the Tree, 2015.
Black and Gold, 2016.
Green Water, White Fowl, 2015
Holding Back the Inevitable, 2016.
Autumn Afternoon, 2016.
Blazing Yellow, 2016
Hanging In There, 2017
Lost, 2016, 96" long.
Madonna of the Swamp, 2016.
On the Bridge, 2016.
Winter of the Swamp, 2014, printed at 100" wide with grommets.
To Sleep To Dream, 2016
January 11, 2017
Nick Cave's spellbinding show at MASS MoCA is miscast as social commentary.
It's "sumptuous, overwhelming materiality give way to stark images of guns, bullets, and targets, positioning us all as culpable, vulnerable, and potentially under attack," according the the North Adams' museum's literature. Some reviewers take the same tack.
What I see is joy, beauty, optimism and excess. The first time I went through those glass doors into the gallery I was seized by euphoria. I was ecstatic. It was so beautiful and so unlike anything I had ever seen. It was so big, so bold, so over the top. If nothing else he has demonstrated that more can be more.
This is the view as you enter the 100-yard long gallery.
Thousands of lawn ornaments strung on cables from the ceiling are spinning slowly, a stunning visual effect. If you look you can find plenty of handguns among the ornaments.
In this context they don't seem threatening to me. But I guess they should give me pause. And they certainly have made me think about the show.
The only thing that seemed slightly sinister in the main gallery was the painting of giant cardinals and amazing, oversexed roses on the entry wall.
In an interview with Nicholas Carolan in Grazia, Cave says about his show, "It's a piece that's really grounded in the political climate right now in the States around the endless unarmed black men that have been losing their lives." The show's title, Until, is a play on words of the American standard of jurisprudence - innocent until proven guilty. In this case it's guilty until proven innocent.
If your object as an artist was to protest the killing of black men by police, something like this flag by the artist Dread Scott would serve better. It was on display in July at the Jack Shainman Gallery in Manhattan. (Shainman hailed from Wiliamstown where his late father was a Williams College professor.)
But this type of militancy isn't what I should expect from Cave, according to a review by Charles Bonenti in Art New England.
"Cave considers himself a messenger of hope and change, of reconciliation rather than militancy, offering pathways rather than answers," Bonenti writes. That I buy.
Once you wind through the hanging ornaments, you find yourself eying Cave's version of heaven. (See the photo at the top of this post.)
What's heaven got to do with it?
"In conceiving the show, he asked himself whether racism exists in heaven and explores that proposition in a theatrical way, pitting buoyant sparkle and cozy nostalgia against the oppressive weight of prejudice," Bonenti writes.
Climbing the ladders to the 18-foot-high observation platform, you are confronted with the answer. There in the midst of gilded pigs and all sorts of stuff is a black lawn jockey, long considered a symbol of racism. The last one I saw was years ago in Lanesborough. There is at least one at the top of every ladder. Each is holding a badminton racket with loose netting. In this guise the rackets are called dream catchers.
An aside: MoCA's giant gallery must be one of the most beautiful in the world, graced by the light from dozens of windows.
These hand-beaded tents or peaks are on the far wall of the gallery and lead into a wild four-wall video that I didn't understand but found fascinating. I had a hard time keeping my balance because of the projection of small waves moving over the floor.
On the mezzane above this are my granddaughter Riley and her boyfriend Jon, works of art in their own right.
The show will be up through September. Denise Marconish was the curator of Until, which was more than three years in the making. She challenged Cave not to use the Soundsuits that had brought him fame in the art world. The way he responded created the best show in the big gallery since Xu Bing's magnificent 12-ton birds flew there in 2013.
"We're seeing exceptional attendence and we're thrilled," Jodi Joseph, MASS MoCA's communication director, said today. When I asked what that translates to in numbers she said they don't release figures on individual shows.
I can attest that attendance is brisk. I went twice during the recent school vacation and both times had a hard time finding a parking space in the museum lot. Once I had to park in the municipal lot across the street and was lucky to find one there
Joseph said the attendence is a great lead-in to MoCA's Memorial Day weekend when it opens its new galleries. Now nearing completion they will double the exhibitioin space of a museum already formidable in size and scope.
Oh, in case you aren't familiar with them, here's one of Cave's Soundsuits, which come in infinite variety. Until is open through September.
December 10, 2016
Lewis Hine, a master photographer working for a group trying to end child labor in the United States, took the great shots above and below in 1911 at the Eclipse Mill in North Adams. His work is now on display at the 1 Berkshire Square Gallery located in one of the Adams mills where the exploitation of poor kids took place.
A production of the Brill Gallery of North Adams, The Mill Children is an encore presentation of this sobering reminder that a great deal of this nation's wealth was built on the backs of children working 12-hour shifts.
It's an ambitious and eye-opening show that brings home the fact that child labor wasn't some abstract phenomena happening somewhere else, but a hard reality right here. And the pictures are also a reminder that in the days when social norms decreed that women shouldn't work outside the home this admonition didn't apply to the poor.
Here a 15-year-old girl tends a machine in the Elcipse Mill in the early 1900s. She would be about the age of a sophomore in high school. Instead she was in the mill working long hours for low pay and breathing in cotton particles that could be bad for workers' health.
Ralph Brill has assembled not only photographs but paintings like the haunting piece, Mill Children, Fall River above by William Oberst of North Adams. It is on view on the back wall of the gallery whose large windows let light and shadow play across its walls. The gallery is located in the four-story Berkshire mill in the center of town that was converted some years ago to office and living space. Like hundreds of others I had a cataract removed by the eye doctors there.
This Oberst painting, Mill Girl, was in the original show but now hangs in the North Adams Library following its purchase.
The first time the exhibit was seen was in 2011 - the 100th anniversary of Hine's photo sessions at the Eclipse Mill. Fittingly this first outing was at the big gallery in the Eclipse Mill, which has been converted to live-in studios for artists. Brill is among those who live and work there. The exhibit then went to the Bennington Museum, Waltham, Fall River and back to Adams. It's inaugural show in Adams attracted 2,500 people, Brill said.
He said negotiations are currently underway to extend the lease on the Berkshire Place gallery space so the exhibit's run can be extended. Bill said he hopes that the show evantually can go on permanent display in either Adams or North Adams. He sees it as a tourist attraction. The show also has an educational component for the schools. It was drafted by Anne French, the service-learning coordinator in the North Adams school system.
Dawn Nelson of Jamaica Plain painted the large unstretched canvas above. It draws on some of the youngsters in Hine photos, including the jaunty kid with the bare feet and pipe from the photo at the top of this post.
Joe Manning of Florence has contributed to the project by identifying some of the children in the pictures and tracing their histories. For instance, the boy with the pipe is Albert Duquette. The last names are a reminder that many of the workers were drawn from the ranks of immigrants from Poland, French-speaking Canada and Ireland.
The Hine photos above and below were taken at the Berkshire Mills in Adams. A nice touch is that the exhibit is being shown in one of the former cotton mill buildings.
After World War II the Adams mills become part of a New England textile conglomerate named Berkshire Hathaway. In 1958 Berkshire Hathaway shut down the Adams operation, throwing 1,000 people out of work and contributing to the crisis in the Northern Berkshire economy caused as plants moved South. When I was a Transcript reporter in North Adams in the early 1960s, the unemployment rate in these towns was still as high as 14 percent.
Then in 1965 Warren Buffett, one of the nation's most successful investors, bought Berkshire Hathaway, whose remaining mills were troubled. Later he would call it his worst investment. But while the mills ultimately failed, his incredibly successful firm retains the Berkshire Hathaway name to this day.
These three girls are poster children for the evils of child labor. It is a Hine photo but I don't know what state they lived in or what industry they worked in. The 14-year-old Kentucky boy below lost his right arm in box factory.
The thousands of photos taken by Hine helped lay the groundwork for reform, but it wasn't until Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 that the practice was largely outlawed. Also working against child labor were unions and women's groups. Going hand in hand with the reform was enforcement of compulsory education by the states. In 1852 Massachusetts became the first state to establish compulsory education. But it was not until well into the 20th century that the mill children left the factories for school.
For many of the estimated 2,000,000 kids working in industry and agriculture, life in the mills wasn't all grim
as illustrated by this detail from a Hine photo. Joseph Crepeau is at the left and Richard Fitzgerald is in the middle.
The Mill Children is usually open Fridays - Sundays from 1 to 5 through January. But call 413-776-7551 before you go to check. It can also be seen by appointment. Entry is through the complex's Hoosac Street door. There is parking across the street.
The volunteer on duty the two days I visited was Mary Jane Kolis of Adams, who herself had worked 14 years as an inspector in the Berkshire mill on the other side of the street. Mrs. Kolis, a fountain of information about Adams and the exhibit, is pictured above. She says when the machinery was in operation you could feel the vibration in the floors and thick brick walls and the noise was very loud.
More information about the show and child labor is available at www.brillgallery109.com and click on The Mill Children.
As for Hine his last big project was photographing construction of the Empire State Building. One is shown here. At some point after that he was black listed, possibly because of his crusading views, Brill said, and died in poverty and neglect.
"His reputation continued to grow, however, and now he is recognized as a master American photographer," according to our country's National Archives.
Support for the exhibit comes from the Adams-Anthony Center, the Cultural Council of Northern Berkshire, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Adams Historical Society and friends.
October 28, 2016
When I walked into Natalie Tyler's L'Atelier Berkshires gallery in Great Barrington, I couldn't take my eyes off Nick Mongiardo's The Zebras. It's a superb 84" x 120" folding screen finished in layers of hand-rubbed black lacquer and with bits of broken eggshells used to create the animals' white stripes.
What a piece of work it is. And the hours of work that went into it. It has a price to match - $38,000.
But you don't have to win the lottery to buy Marshall Jones' Ritual 3 above. This 34-inch long oil is priced at $4,000. Not only is it a fine painting, Keith Shaw wrote in a review in the Berkshire Edge, "it has a sense of importance about it." It's a mysterious work. Why is she in a position of supplication before that remarkable wall? Is she a willing participant in some sexual ritual or a victim. Beautiful tattoo, by the way.
Shaw calls Jones, whose studio is in New York City, a "promising, intelligent, early-career artist..."
Kiki Dufault's Janus is 74 inches high and made of layer after layer of oil paint on canvas. I could kill to get that surface. Well, maybe not kill, but make a pact with the Devil.
L'Atelier Berkshires is an exciting addition to the regional art scene. Ms. Tyler, who is a sculptor, opened the gallery in December and has been turning out strong shows ever since. The gallery is in a house at 597 Main Street at the south end of Great Barrington. Besides this space downstairs, it has another gallery room upstairs. Ms. Tyler's studio is below the gallery, which is situated on a steeply slopped lot.
This view shows works by various artists including paintings by Jones and a spectacular bench by Mongiardo called Religious Experience. It is made of a slab of Bubinga wood. Its surface is not varnished. The shine comes from many rubbings with an oil, says Ms. Tyler.
This closeup of Mongiardo's Zebra screen, shows how the tiny pieces of different colored eggshells have been laboriously applied to the screen's black surface to form the zebras' stripes. Mongiardo came to the Berkshire in 1975 and started a furniture restoration business in Housatonic. The quality of his work has attracted celebrity clients and high-end designers. And as you can see he also produces art, as do his three sons.
One of them, Taj, made this beautiful cast acrylic cube. The carved and painted interior casts reflections on the outer walls of the cube in an intriguing way.
Returning to Marshall Jones, who was the reason I went to the gallery in the first place, I was really blown away by this large painting, Dreamscape. I left the jars in the photo to help give you a sense of the painting's size - 34" x 72". The woman in the black slip, appears to be considering leaving her infant to join the naked women on the left, one crawling out of a red light district and the other on the run from the figure of a Minotaur, a mythological Greek creature with the body of a man and the head of a bull. Jones, however, has given the mythological creatue a modern twist, substituting the body of a woman, and of course she's nude. The bad thing about a Minotaur, as far as people are concerned, is he/she devours humans.
So here we have a woman with an extraordinary expression and a painted face. Jones calls her New Creation 1. The oil painting is 17" x 22". I keep trying to read her face. It's determined, certainly, and defiant, skeptical. What do you see there? Why is her face painted?
This small painting (20" x 20") hangs large on the wall. Jones has accomplished that by putting her arresting torso right in your face. America 3 he calls it. What about America does it represent? Exhibitionism? You tell me. The flag hammers home the title. Whatever it is, I like it.
Back to Janus, the two faced god of ancient Greece. These photos illustrate why I'm so crazy about the surface Ms. Dufault created by applying layer after layer of paint. She's created a typography on the canvas. Part of that, the brown mound in the upper left, is actually a wasp's hive that the insects built on the canvas during a period she wasn't working on it. I like her decision to incorporate the hive.
Within that typography she's created this beautiful, golden face on the left. I didn't notice it until Natalie Tyler pointed it out. It's a noble face worthy of the god of beginnings and ends, of time itself. I love the way one eyelid is sculpted in paint. The second face, less distinguished, can also be seen in this detail if you look hard enough.
Now to Ms. Tyler's work. Antler Chandelier, above, Trophy, and a piece from her Wasp Series are below. All are made of cast crystal, a fiery process. I love the warm oranges and hot yellows she has achieved in the wasp nest, a piece that unintentionally links the work to Ms DuFault's.
Natalie Tyler after living in California and New York City says she has finally found home in the Berkshires.
Here her work has been restrained in size by circumstances. But she has done large installations in the past. One that I wish I'd seen was Diapause which featured seven human-size cocoons.
"You enter into a pitch-black room where all you see are several warm amber glows. As you approach each glow, it starts to wake up and slowly brighten, which reveals the whole form of the cocoon. Once you are still, it dims back down and goes to sleep." She gave that description in an extended interview in The Artful Mind, which you can read by going to this link: https://issuu.com/theartfulmindartzine/docs/binder1. Sorry I couldn't give you a click-on link. Just wouldn't work.
Ms. Tyler's gallery in its old yellow house with arched windows is a welcome addition to the region. How does she select the artists she shows?
"For me, the best art speaks to the soul."
A lot of what she's showing speaks to my soul, too.
Her holiday show, The Gift, will exhibit small works runs from November 12 through December 31. That gives you until November 6 to see the current show. You can check the gallery's hours and exhibit information at www.atelierberkshires.com. It isn't a bad idea to call Ms. Tyler before you go. The gallery's new phone number is 510-469-5468.
October 20, 2016
Put a pencil in Linda Baker-cimini's hand and she can amaze you with her skill at the same time she makes you laugh with what gallery owner Phil Pryjma calls her "great ability to play with language and multiple meanings."
Take the print above. Everyone likes a person who lends them a "sympathetic ear." But Linda's Rubinesque nymph loves this goat man because he has "such sympathetic ears." I didn't have to spell this out to you but I did because (I hate to admit) it took me a while to get the play on words.
Linda's work is on display at Pryjma's St. Francis Gallery in an old church, as you might guess from the name, on Route 102 in South Lee. There is a public reception for this fall show, Tatu, this Saturday from 3 to 6. Linda is one of many artists in the exhibit which runs Fridays through Mondays from 10 to 5 until November 27. You can usually find her corner display by following the sound of laughter.
Linda - who sells her prints at an unheard of $20 and $30 each is St. Francis Gallery's leading seller in terms of volumn. At her prices neither she nor the gallery, which uses its profits for work trips to Kenya in the winter - are getting rich. Nevertheless, "She's a jem," Pryjma says.
She calls her work "drawings" rather than cartoons because "cartoons are more facile." She often works on a piece for days.
"I've been drawing since I could hold a pencil," says to long-time Pittsfield resident who moved to West Stockbridge last year. Her inflences as a child were a Durer print of a rabbit that hung over her bed and the Crockett Johnson book "Harold and the Purple Crayon." Of the Durer she says, "I would stare at the fur. "I thought, 'Wow, if I could ever do that!'"
Harold was her hero. "I wanted to create my own world with my pen." And she has.
Prolific, I asked her how she keeps coming up with ideas. "Damned if I know. Sometimes I'll just be sitting and one jumps in my lap like a cat."
Another artist in the show is Scott Taylor, a successful painter from Pittsfield. Scott is another big seller in the gallery. I have watched as he has started experimenting with new themes and - at times - a more abstract style.
Scott's painting City Rain, above, is one of the only cityscapes I can remember him doing. There is an inescapable sorrow in the work.
His powerful painting with its searing fire is In My Father's Hands.
Jacob Fossum knows his way around paint. I admire the way he does the folds in the piece above. And his colors are masterful. The same goes for his curtain blowing in the breeze below.
For the road, here's another of Linda's:
Disclosure: I am a close friend of Linda's who I have often portraied in paint and photos and a friend of Scott's as well. I am represented by the St. Francis Gallery.
Admission: I have been neglecting Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man. This is my first post in two months. Not many years ago I posted every two days. But I continue to use Facebook as a spot to show my work.
August 17, 2016
I want to alert you to this photo of mine that is in a group show at the Saint Francis Gallery on Route 102 in South Lee through October. The public reception for the exhibit, which I think is quite strong, is this Saturday from 3 to 6.
At the same time I want to talk about nudity in art and illustrate the piece with paintings from the current "Splendor, Myth and Vision: Nudes of the Prado" at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown as well as contemporary art from the Brill Gallery in North Adams and other sources, including my own work.
I worked on the photo at the top off and on for months before having it printed by Massive Graphics this year. It is 32"x 48" and mounted on aluminum. Called To Have and Have Not, it is the combination of a photo of a woman I took in 2007 and one I took of weeds and seemingly golden water in my Swamp series in 2014 or 2015.
It is a gentler work than a painting, BET.5-76 (below), I did several years earlier. The difference is nude versus naked. In this one you're confronted with her nakedness, her breasts are thrust at you by her pose - outstretched arms against some very classy graffity on a railroad car.
To me it is more erotic than the one at the top. But mine's nowhere near as confrontational as Egon Schiele's 1913 painting below.
Or as Eric Fischl's Bad Boy from 1981.
Some people have been calling the Clark's nudes from the Prado hot and others have dismissed the show as boring. For all it's flesh I wouldn't call it sexy.
From reviews I've read Titian's Venus with an Organist and Cupid from about 1550 is a hit. As Cupid whispers in her ear, the organist seizes her distraction as an opportunity to look at her mons pubis. Does that make it letcherous or does it add a touch of humor. I go for the latter. Her body is pleasingly plump - the ideal of the time. I expect Cupid's advice is salacious, given the hardly cherubic look on his face and the placement of his pudgy hand.
Goya's Naked Maja painted about 250 years later is seductive but to the regret of many is not in the Clark show. With her eyes and expression she is clearly inviting the viewer to join her. One odd thing: the position of her head. It looks severed from her body and she's holding it in place with her hands. The subject is supposedly Venus but there were rumors that it was really the Dutchess of Alba who made herself alluring on the plumped up pillows on her dark green couch.
Speaking about Venus, she pops up again in Titian's Sacred and Profane Love, my favorite painting in the Clark show because of the beautifully realized women and its purity of execution and color. No smut here.
In this painting by Tintoretto at the Clark, the woman is clearly trying to seduce whoever is standing out of view on the right. In this one, you aren't the object of her desire. Does this make it less lascivious? Wanton women are the subject of many of the 28 nudes in the Clark. So wanton that in their day they were only seen by the nobility who secreted them in private rooms in their castles. This was during the Inquisition. The Catholic Church considered them objects of lust.
In this discussion I have been assuming the object of the come-hither look is male. I'd welcome comments from women about how they view the same paintings. You can find my email under "Contact" in the row of icons that tops the blog. I'll add them to this piece.
All the painters in the show (I think) - are men. Males continued to be the dominant force in art in 1989 when the Guerrilla Girls used posters like the one below to open the way for women artists.
Now to a couple of the paintings from the Brill Gallery show, Nudes Beyond the Prado, earlier this summer. The one below is Jim Peters' The Tall Irish. I am crazy about the painting: the woman's beauty, the sumptuous bed she is standing by, the low key colors punctuated by the red spilled over her head and applied to her pubic hair. Besides painting, Peters, who lives in North Adams, teaches, often at RISD, and often collaborates with his wife Kathline Carr, a writer and artist.
Now another beautiful and skillfully executed piece, this time a photograph. The photographer, Roy Volkmann, calls it Untitled (e'rotique en rouge #01). His studio is in Hudson, New York.
The third artist in that show, which was held in the Eclipse Mill Gallery, was Nadine Robbins whose work I have followed on Facebook and in her website for some time.
I love this painting because of it's in-you-faceness. The model has attitude and Robbins has attitude and it all comes out in this fantastic canvas. Robbins, who lives in the Hudson valley, describes herself as a "contemporary realist painter of narrative portraits, emotional nudes and juicy oysters."
As for me, I am torn about whether to concentrate on nudes or keep my subjects closed. Some years ago I saw Daniel Chester French's sculpture "Andromeda," below. It was the last sculpture he did and was still working on it when he died. I told my wife and friends that wouldn't be a bad way to spend your final years. But I'm not sure I really meant it. I must have a Puritanical streak that says, "Grier, don't make them naked. It deprives the subjects of shelter, leaving them exposed and vulnerable. (Of course, I have to remind myself, the model in Nadine Robbins painting looks anything but vulnerable.
A couple years ago I tried to sell MASS MoCA on the idea of using my elevator photos life sized on the wall next to their main elevator. Among the photos I submitted was the one below. I made the amethyst abstract photo for the project. It's pattern came from the one that had occurred naturally on the unpainted steel of that lift's door. I took photos of Andromeda and of the elevator and then combined the elements using Photoshop.
There is elevator music. So why not elevator art? Then again, elevator music is usually either awful or awfully bland.
July 25, 2016
Lucy MacGillis, a Pittsfield native who has lived and painted in Italy for 16 years, has just concluded another successful show at the Hoadley Gallery in Lenox. At 39 her power as a painter of interiors and landscapes has attracted people who collect her work, says Stephanie Hoadley who has shown Lucy MacGillis' work since 2004. She is one of those rare artists who supports herself by her art and giving art seminars.
You can appreciate how good she is simply by looking at the brilliant way she brings life to what otherwise would be a dull green wall. In her hands it becomes a main component of the picture, setting the stage for the introduction of the kitchen table with its white cloth and vegetables.
The daughter of our friends Ingrid and Don MacGillis of Pittsfield, I have known her since she was an infant and have delighted in her work and her success. (Can you believe it? I just had to look up the spelling of success. That wouldn't surprise those who worked with me at The Eagle, where my bad spelling was legendary.)
Above is Lucy's painting of Piero, her partner. It is 47" x 39" and one of my favorites in the show of her recent work. Her mastery of earth tones continues, as does her bold brushwork. The whiteness of Piero's shirt catches my eye first but then I move up to his soulful face and eyes.
Just looking at the blood orange above, painted so simply and so convincingly, makes me long to taste its juice flowing down my throat.
I love this painting of her watercolor box. As in the blood oranges I find the flashes of color here very satisfying and would like to see them used more frequently. But she is a subtle painter. And subtlty is nothing I've ever been accused of.
This is a portrait of the artist and her son Vito taken a couple years ago. In the show's catalogue, which you can buy at Hoadley for $8, Lucy writes about how striking the light is in Umbria where she lives.
But now "it is clear to me how fundamental the dark is, the contrast, light's opposite."
"Living here I am also increasingly aware of Umbria's dark side, the historical pessimism, the depression and high rate of mental illness, not helped by the thick fog which often envelopes the Tiber valley for weeks at a time in winter.
"The cold tramontana, the north wind, eventually blows the fog away and brings the sun with it. The distant vistas return, the sun blazes. The light's intensity is overwhelming after dark days."
This shot shows some of the ceramic pottery the gallery is noted for. Below is a page from the gallery's book for visitors. Not many artists get to see so many red "sold" dots.
Looking at the pictures I've shown you, I realize I haven't included any landscapes. Let me remedy that with four small ones on a narrow end wall in the gallery on Church Street before I say, "Arrivederci, Lucy." Looking forward to next year's show.
May 7, 2016
Bottoms up! Three Mallard ducks are grabbing a snack in the swamp. Bunched as they are, it's a little hard to sort them out. Sometimes I think I'm looking at four. But I'd swear there were only three.
So here they are in a chorus line.
Aren't their iridescent heads a spectacular green?
At this time of year, where there are ducks there are ducklings. Unless that's a gosling.
And then there was this bird. Pretty small. Looking more like a bird you'd see at the beach then in the swamp. Can anyone inform this non-birder what it is. There were quite a few of them.
Red wing blackbirds like the swamp.
While I'm not a birder, I'm finding I like to take photos of birds. There were birds darting around the reeds in the swamp in the late afternoon and I tried to take shots of them in flight. Most frames missed the birds completely. It was hard to get a bead on them because they were fast and switched direction on a dime.
If you look closely at the photo above, you'll see I caught two birds - one near the left edge of the picture and the other, tilted at about a 60 degree angle, is in the center. I thought they might be blue birds. You can get a better look at the color in the photo below. Next time I'll have to use a much faster shutter speed.
April 27, 2016
Here's an experiment with a new way of posting. Let's see if it works.
Woops. It did not work. I was trying to run Adobe Slate on Adobe Contribute - the program I publish my blog on. So much for that. This was a post about the Highline elevated park in Manhattan. You can read it on my Facebook page of April 27.
APRIL 4, 2016
Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved
I believe Joe Goodwin of Pittsfield is one of America's best abstract painters, that his work should be in the Met, MoMA, the Pompidou.
A couple years ago I told him I thought a painting of his was one of the great works of art.
"You mean of all time?" he asked me incredulously.
From the tone of his voice it was obvious he felt I didn't know what I was talking about. Maybe I was going overboard, but the painting was amazing.
When I saw Saturday night's opening of his solo show in the wonderful Ellen Crane Room at the Berkshire Museum, I was seized by the feeling of being in the presence of the real thing.
There are 17 paintings in the room. But this is not a retrospective but rather a look at the 64-year-old Pittsfield artist's new work with its brightened perspective. Most of the work was done from 2013 on. He considers it one of the most prolific periods of his life.
The opening of Liminal Artifacts was an occasion. There were more than 230 people in that room, a new record for a reception at the museum. With the room's new LED lighting, and its restored skylight, Joe's work was lighted perfectly.
In turn his paintings illuminated the room.
The artist has turned to a lighter background in these pieces, which dramatically sets off the clusters of color.
After looking at the photos I took at the opening, I decided to run ones with people in front of his paintings rather than the paintings in isolation. I'd use celebratory pictures rather than catalogue pictures because I couldn't do the paintings justice.
One of my favorites is this one. If I remember correctly, which I probably don't, it is Indian Creek Dream Sequence. In my mind I can see the blue as the water and the clusters in it as islands of ideas and emotions coming to the surface through his artistic practice. In the museum's write up of the show, Joe says dreams play an important role in his work.
“Dreams defy physics and amplify experience with their ambiguous spaces, symbolic meanings, and sensations that seem to speak from and to a sixth sense. In this way, painting and dreaming have much in common... Painting allows my subconscious perceptions to register graphically, similar to the way they do in dreams. I have come to see painting as a developing solution to the unconscious.”
This is Joe engaged in conversation in the room so loud with voices that you were greeted with the din as you climbed the stairs.
Carrie Wright, her husband photographer Bill Wright and Van Sheilds, director of the Berkshire Museum. Sheilds says, “As with most artists at the top of their game, a constant for Joe’s art is a sense of purposefulness, even as his inspiration for his current work springs from the unconscious.”
Some made fashion statements at the opening. Among them was this old man with a great vest, purple shirt and a cane. Among many others looking good were the man and woman in black below.
The luminosity of Joe's work is enhanced by the marble dust and silica he adds to his acrylics - paints he mixes from dry pigments and polymer emulsions. His atmospheric work, the museum says is "ethereal, enigmatic, and reflective" and references natural phenomena. This one developed its own glow as he worked on it, he told me yesterday.
When I suggested at the top that Joe should be represented in some of the world's top museums, that shouldn't be taken to mean he isn't in any museums. He has work in the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts, Neuberger Museum at SUNY Purchase in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona, the Naples Museum of Art in Naples, Florida, the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, the Bartlett Art Center at Oklahoma State University, the Yellowstone Art Center in Billings, Montana, and the Berkshire Museum.
The show will be at the museum through June 19.
April 3, 2016
The Whitney's curator, Leo Mazzeo, has mounted a strong show, Temptation, at that Wendell Avenue gallery. Just look at the first six pictures in this post. They all flex artistic muscle. At the top we have this savage self portrait Abattoir by Tom McGill. Abattoir is French for slaughterhouse. It conveys overtones of sacrifice, torture, death.
Then we have Julian Grey's compelling photograph of a couple in Love Knows No Limits. I can't figure out if she is kicking the man out of her life, sending him off to a funeral, or to the firing squad. He stands at attention, which men don't do often outside the military. It's mystery and technical brilliance intrigues me.
This risque painting by Paul Gaubard speaks of the temptations and pleasures of sex, booze and food while putting a smile on my face. Tongue in cheek, Graubard takes on morals, morels, s'mores, margaritas, and meat in one fell swoope.
In Trilogy a man is anguished as one woman walks away and another looks out at us with an expression I can't read. It was painted by Nayana Glazier, who curated many of the gallery's early shows.
Above is Lord, Hear My Prayer by photographer Karen Schiltz. A lovely picture, it is marred here by reflections of people and lights in the gallery.
This is Guilt and I feel guilty because I forget who painted it. Hours later I have the answer: Marney Schorr, an art therapist. And the title is Grief, not Guilt.
It turns out she has withdrawn the painting from the show. She says she doesn't want families to come to see her work and be exposed to pieces she regards as too sexually explicit.
"As an emerging community leader, it has become increasingly important to me that I send out messages of positivity and hope and my participation in the show conflicted with this mission," she said on her Facebook page.
Leo Mazzeo, the curator, says the show is intentionally "dark and provocative."
"But I don't think we crossed any lines into pornography," Leo said.
I agree. But it might be a good idea to post a sign at the door that the show probably isn't appropriate for children. I haven't included what I regard as the two most provocative photos, both by Julian Grey, below, whose work I greatly admire. His subjects wouldn't be easy for some people to deal with. We're friends and I take Photoshop lessons from Julian.
Photographer Julian Grey, left, is engrossed in conversation with a young woman in black who makes a point with an expressive lift of her hand.
Above is Grey's photo Other and below his Drink.
Above is McGill's six-foot-high Push and Pull on unstretched canvas.
Here is another example of Graubard's active imagination and delight in injecting humor into his work. This one is Cyclops Likes Snacking. Anyone care for a drumstick. Or are those human legs?
Leo Mazzeo, left, the artist who set up this show, and talks with Tom McGill, one of the painters in it. Behind Mazzeo is Ghazi Kazmi, operator of the Whitney. I had planned to show you more work by these and other artists but I've run out of steam. But I can muster energy to show you one of mine hanging in the Whitney hallway, but not as part of this show. It is six-feet high and offers enough beer and booze to temp many drinkers. The painting shows a slice of The Man of Kent in Hoosick Falls, New York, and a lovely young woman who once worked there.
April 2, 2016
The Tobin Trifecta opened at the Lichtenstein Center for the arts last night and it's a good bet that if you go you'll like it.
Bill Tobin and his brother JJ Tobin are showing their traditional work but each has also taken a flyer with new approaches that paid off.
And then there is their neice, Jesse, whose bright abstracts keep getting brighter and better.
Bill Tobin, known locally for his geometric abstract sculpture like the one pictured at the top of this post, has taken a chance on ditching the straight lines and solidity that marks his work. The result is his impressive Birth of the Firmament, above. It sweeps up one wall, crosses the ceiling and drops down along the other wall.
I love his reach-for-the-universe description of the work on its label below.
Here you have the former Pittsfield High chemistry teacher's brother, retired fire captain JJ Tobin, reaching for poignancy and political impact in The Displaced above and below. The bags perched on the blue vases are made of concrete. Again I'm turning to the work's label to illustrate what he's reaching for:
The Displaced is a real leap from one of JJ's typical pieces, Midnight Blue, below. It is painted in acrylic on sand on canvas.
Here you have the bold work of Jesse, the daughter of the late subterranian artist FX Tobin. Her paintings are visceral. They throw punches. And I like them a lot.
The show by the trio of Pittsfield artists whose work runs from subtle to striking will be on view at the Lichtenstein through (I'm trying to find out.) The city-owned gallery is open from noon to 5 Wednesdays through Saturdays.
March 25, 2016
In the shadow of the state's highest peak*, a gash in the foothills in Adams is growing. It's getting larger as Specialty Minerals steps up operations at this open pit limestone mine and processing operation. In 2014 Specialty Minerals announced that the first phase of its expansion was complete and that with the completion of the second phase the plant's production capacity would climb by 35%.
But the mine hasn't stirred environmentalists. They don't attack it like a Pennsylvania strip mine. Maybe that's because to some, like me, it's quite beautiful. It's softened by the whiteness of the lime and of the plant itself.
But the cut in the hills, which began began before the Civil War, will keep getting bigger to accommodate Specialty Minerals' plans. As one Adams official speculated, the company owns so much limestone-bearing land the mine probably has "a good 50 years to go."
My question is this: Will the scarred land be returned to its natural state at some point? I couldn't find out. I tried to get to the company's public relations officer at its headquarters in Pennsylvania but he didn't return my call. I also tried unsuccessfully to reach Steve Thompson, the plant manager.
In Adams, Specialty Minerals, an international division of the big Mineral Technologies company, converts the stone into ultrafine precipitated calcium carbonate(PCC)incorporated in some foods, pharmaceuticals, sealants and adhesives.
"PCC's are used as dietary calcium, mostly in liquid products where the very small particle size is valuable," another PCC producer says. "Many medicines and cosmetics contain PCC, as the base material of pills, or for bulking of liquid medicines, ointments or creams. PCC's are used in toothpaste as a viscosity aid and mild abrasive."
My plan now is to give you a view of the pit mine so you can make up your own mind about its impact.
These pictures start at the north end of the pit, above. Each picture starting with the one below is another step to the south. Allow for some overlapping.
One big thing the open pit mine has going for it in Adams, a town of 8,500 people, is that it employs more than 150 workers. (I couldn't get the official figure.) And Specialty Minerals is Adams' biggest taxpayer, paying $304,000 in real estate taxes for the last fiscal year, according to the town's treasurer-collector, Kelly Rice. Its property is assessed at $9.9 million, almost four times more than the next highest company, the Berkshire Mill Association. Only five businesses have assessments over $1 million.
Over the years this mine has been owned by New England Lime and Pfizer before it was taken over by Specialty Minerals. Locally it is usually referred to as the quarry. But to be correct it is an open pit mine.
Ok, now that you have a pretty good idea of the look of the mine, I'm going to show you an encouraging energy conservation site on the old Adams landfill on East Road, which I was standing next to when I took these shots of the open pit last week. It's a massive solar array that cuts the municipal government's electric bill by $130,000 to $190,000 annually for 15 years.
Specialty Minerals has done some significant energy conservation work itself. By converting its two largest kilns from No. 6 oil to natural gas in 2012 and 2013 the plant improved its emissions discharge. At the same time it saved money. The main kiln had cost $16,700 a day to operate when it used oil. With natural gas, the company said the cost fell to $9,100 a day. Specialty Minerals said the savings was so large the cost of the conversion to natural gas would be paid off in one year.
PS - If any of you reading this can give me more information about land reclamation plans, if there are any, or other particulars about the plant, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*In reference to the plant being in the shadow of Mount Greylock, the War Memorial Tower on the mountaintop can be seen in the photo at the top of this post.
January 29, 2016
From Hillside Cemetery in North Adams yesterday afternoon I watched the wind turbins bathed in white spin their electric song. And if I turned my camera down from that eastern ridge, I could see a little temple for the dead, where if the author William Kennedy was right, the occupants could see me and speculate about me, the lone upright person in this beautiful burial ground.
The colorful west wall of the Cascade paper plant would also give them something to talk about, although by now they are used to it, as they are used to the silhouette of the section below where I stood in the cold wind. (Which is a much better place to be than the cold ground.
And to the southeast of my location is the long hill rising to the woods, it's slopes made suitable for graves by terracing - the rice patty of the departed.
Before my stop up the steep cemetery road, I had been struggling to grasp some of the tricky advanced aspects of Photoshop during my weekly lesson with Julian Grey. She's a fine teacher but at times I think the adage "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" has more truth in it than I would like to believe.
Back home I had a snack, bundled up and listened to Babbie joke about how long it took me to get ready for a walk. I walked up the road leading to what had been the Ponterril swimming pool and playing fields. The trees at the top were golden in the late sunlight.
This stump not far from where the pool had been is a reminder to the double row of high white pines that bathers used to park beneath. The hedgerows at Ponterril have been felled to make way for a solar farm. The cutting was a little hard to take, but on the positive side it opened up spectacular views of the mountains west of the lake. (This shot was taken in November.)
As the rosey hue left the clouds, the forest at the edge of the property darkened. I would not like to spend the night in there.
January 9, 2016
Photos by Grier Horner
This a self portrait by Michael Rousseau is in a show that opened last night at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts in Pittsfield. It blew me away in its virtuosity and drama. The painting is called Decorating the Holes Left in Life. I think Michael, who lives in Pittsfield, is bound for the big time. I mean look at the drape of the suit, the hand in the pocket, the expression on the face, the shoes, the shirt. It is all so there, so real. You could swear ... hmmm, let's see ... I don't know. I'm letting myself get carried away. But you could swear he is a painter who is superbly in control of the paint.
Here he is talking last night with Nicole Rizzo, the director of Gypsy Layne Burlesque. She and some of her troupe were to perform at the show, but I, who can no longer drive at night, had to leave before they went on. Like all the artists in this show, Nicole has a studio at the Lichtenstein.
Vermeer is among the classic artists who have done paintings of young women reading letters, but here Rousseau brings the subject up to date. In his version of "The Letter" the girl reads it on her smart phone, which provides the dramatic lighting called chiaroscuro that Rousseau often employs in his take on paintings by artists like Carvaggio. While beautifully done, they aren't my favorites. Generally. But the one below, which isn't in the show, splits the difference between the classic and contemporary and I like it a great deal.
I've been leaving out the other artists in the current Lichtenstein show. Let's get to them.
Here's a painting I think is very good. And the more I look at it, the more I like it. It's a 24" x 48" oil by Julio Granda called Berkshire Landscape/Incoming. The house on the left is inset into the painting and gives the piece its name.
Julio came to the reception just as I was leaving. So I didn't have a chance to
ask him about it. But I view it as a protest about the county's landscape - a richly painted forest in this case - being cut into by the construction of second homes, hotels and other urban structures.
Julio also showed these fascinating pieces above. The one on the right looks like road kill along the striped yellow line. I have to apologize for not even getting the titles because I was in such a rush to meet my curfew.
This painting of a sailor's battle to survive what I assume was a shipwreck is by Peg Dotchin. You can feel his exhaustion as he takes one last pulls on the oars to bring him to land.
Speaking of Peg, here she is, back to the camera, talking with Jade Roy, who would be performing later with Gypsy Lane.
These are drawings by Sean McCusker. They are done with a silver pen on paper and feature the small figures he has been using as stand-ins for people for years. In these they peer at the moon and the vastness of space in isolation.
Sean gets three-dimensional depths to his surfaces by applying multiple layers of lines.
Here are two of Mario Calouri's powerful tree paintings: Hello, Georgia, above, and Aneular Limbs, below. If a parachuter was unfortunate enough to land on one of them, he'd be done for.
Nicole Rizzo's Gypsy Layne displayed this poster for an upcoming performance at Hotel on North. Providing background music last night was Kaylene Lemme, below, who has a lovely voice.
I left out one or two of the artists who work in the studios above this handsome, city-owned gallery. It wasn't on purpose. It was because I was in too much of a rush.
You can take in the exhibit at the Lichtenstein, located at 28 Renne Avenue in Pittsfield’s “Upstreet Cultural District,” from 11 to 4 on Wednesdays through Saturdays. For more information call 413-499-9348.
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