Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man
By Grier Horner
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 email@example.com.
*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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