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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

January 28, 2014

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved
The sun came out briefly yesterday afternoon and this is what it looked like as it played across one of my Jeanne d'Arc paintings. This piece, by the way, is available through my dealer, Yoram Gil.

On the other side of the room hangs To the Lower Depths by my late friend Ray Librizzi - or RayLib as he signed his paintings. It's an outsider's extraordinary take on heaven, earth and hell. He did it in his sweltering attic when he was in his mid-80s. I think it was his last major work.

On the sofa is a great art catalogue, Egon Schiele, The Leopold Collection, Vienna. Nancy gave it to me and I've been studying the drawings and paintings - most of which are erotic. Looking at it makes me want to paint some nudes - something I haven't done in a long time.
Here's a detail of the painting. You can see that two monsters guard the gates to hell - or in this case to the "annual meeting of male hookers, pedophiles and other deviates AND SADISTS AND RAPISTS." A convention to avoid at all costs.

Here I've been unwrapping paintings stored on Sona Tubes until I found this one and another in the same series that I was looking for. I was afraid they had been thrown out by mistake.

Here's the same painting in my studio where I'm installing grommets to hang the canvas. Below is a shot of one installed yesterday. My wife does not have kind things to say about the condition of the studio. I feel very much at home there. It's big problem is that there are so many paintings stacked up against the walls and rolled up between the joists that I have left myself very little space to paint. Occasionally I have a little trouble locating something I need. But I pretty much remember where everything is as long as I put stuff back where it was.
January 23, 2014

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

This is my revised version of The Solar System According to WGH IV which I showed you on December 12. I wasn't happy with the sun or the earth - which  in this painting was a lot not to be happy with. Since then I have reworked the sun and earth innumerable times and came up with this. Was it worth the effort? You tell me.

I've been working on this for seven weeks off and on. It only took God seven days to create heaven and earth - only six if you consider that on the seventh day he rested. WGH IV, if you are wondering, are my initials.

The sun gave me the most trouble. I should have taken photo of it in all its guises in the last month. Below is the photo of the painting as it existed in early December. Maybe the problem with the sun in that one was that it looked like a slice of tomato. As for the earth I didn't like the way I had done the cloud cover.

So in this version I created a new earth shown below. And I swept all the clouds away.



Nicolaus Copernicus

In The Universe According to WGH IV, I cast aside Nicolaus Copernicus's revolutionary theory in the 1500s that the earth and planets revolve around the sun, not the earth. But then as you can see in another of my paintings, Is the Earth Flat?, I don't subscribe to all these newfangled astrological ideas.

January 20, 2014

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Every year I take pictures of the channel at Pontoosuc Lake. I probably have hundreds. Here are two taken this month. The one on the top is at the channel's mouth where it widens into the lake. The one below is part of its narrow section from the mouth to the boat launch. So far this year the channel hasn't frozen completely. It's a rather esoteric project, but one I'm committed to. 


But the lake itself has. Here's the long green line of the guard rail along North Street looking toward Mount Greylock in the distance. You can see my shadow in the lower left as I take the photo. This was before the snow was melted by heavy rain - something that's happened twice this month.

After the latest meltdown of snow, and before what fell on Saturday and Monday, the lake looked like this - just one of its many moods.
January 16, 2014

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Linda Baker-cimini is one of my favorite subjects for both photography (see my December 24 post) and painting. I'm calling this one Red Linda. You probably can't guess why. Here's a selection of one more photo and four of the paintings I've done of Linda, all in the baseball cap.





The painting above is shaped and mounted on foam core, with a second painting on the back. It is designed to hang from a beam or the ceiling.





January 13, 2014

Photos by Grier Horner except where otherwise credited
There is a power and glory to the best of John Stritch's paintings and his sculpture is as craggy, assertive and whimsical as he is. Both paintings and sculpture are on display at the Whitney Center for the Arts in the former Professional Women's building at 42 Wendell Avenue in Pittsfield. The painting above is my favorite in the show.

As if the Whit's feast for the eyes isn't enough, the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, 28 Renne Avenue, Pittsfield, is showing Stritch's posters - dozens of them. The 88-year-old artist has a great sense of graphics. Both shows are up through the end of the month. The Whit is open from 4 to 7 Wednesdays through Fridays and from 12 to 5 on Saturdays. The Lichtenstein is open from noon to 5 Wednesdays through Saturdays.

Stritch is better known for his sculptures and posters than his paintings. The sculpture below, formed of a Buckeye tractor seat, is a prime example of his style. In the background in Ghazi Kazmi, the Whit's director, installing the show. Below that is a shot of the Lichtenstein in a fund-raising event staged by the Berkshire Art Association to help with scholarships for artists in college.

He had a bout with cancer last year and lost a lot of weight. But while he is diminished physically, he hasn't been bowed. When you hear him speak, as he did in a Q and A session with Michael Boroniec, an artist himself, the years melt away and a young man's passion and humor about art and society comes through. He is funny and opinionated. No shrinking violet John Stritch. Take a look and listen to this short iPhone video shot by Susan Geller as he talked to the crowd Saturday.

Photo of John and me with our purple sweaters by Susan Geller.

Here is some of what John said in his conversation with the audience.

On the state of the nation:  A lapsed Catholic, John said the church "left me with one thing...The concept of a state of grace.  And I have seen in my lifetime my country fall from grace." In an interview I had with him Thursday he made the same point, attributing the fall to greed. "Money is killing us," he said.

On the state of art: "I don't understand painting any more than you do. An artist paints, he said, "because he's trying to find out who the hell he is."  Money is also corrupting art, he told me Thursday. The frenetic millions being spent by the rich for paintings by some contemporary artists "has devalued the soul of art in America," he contended.

On the state of Pittsfield: "Pittsfield is no longer the Pits."


Despite the rain Friday evening, the Whit was so jammed you could disappear in the crowd. I know there was at least one friend that I didn't spot because of the crush.


Photo by Susan Geller

In the interview I learned that John joined the Army in 1943 at 18 and the army sent him to Cornell and BU to become a surgeon. He remained in the service for several years after World War II ended. It wasn't long before he was called up by the Air Force for the Korean War. That delighted him,   he said.  because he was finding civilian life tedious. The Air Force sent him to England. There he met Jeanne. They’ve been married more than 60 years.


This, I think, is another masterpiece. The artist said he didn't resume painting until relatively late in his art career, concentrating instead on sculpture since arriving in Hinsdale.

John said he “loved the Air Force,” in which he served as a flight surgeon. He was involved in three rescue missions in the North Sea. Twice he was lowered from his helicopter into the water - ”We pulled those guys out of the sea after their jet crashed” - and once onto a ship. It was exciting and he was living well. He recalls a photo of his Porsche parked next to his helicopter.


After the war he and Jeanne went to Aruba where Esso had a giant refinery and served as a company surgeon for seven years. “Life was too good there. It gets boring after a while. Everyone had more time than they knew what to do with."

On his 37th birthday he quit Esso and “we went to Paris.” They bought “an old ruin” in Haut de Cagnes, France, fixed it up and he started painting. It has been said that Stritch met Picasso in France but he says that isn’t so. “I just saw him in a restaurant.”

Why did he switch from medicine to art? “I think maybe in my heart of hearts I never was really a surgeon felt that it was not my calling." So art became his profession and his passion.

After five years in France, the Ware native and his wife purchased a house in Hinsdale. He knew this area because his sister was living in Pittsfield.
“I bought a house, large barn and 68 acres for $8,000...In France you couldn’t buy a garage for that.” For years the house with sculpture scattered across its lawn was a landmark.

At the farm he found old machinery. “I took some to the welder and asked him if he could weld these pieces here," he said holding his hands in the position he grasped the two pieces in that day long ago. The welder welded them. "It looked like a shield." John was hooked.

The man who taught John to weld was Dave Freshler, a Hinsdale gas station owner. Freshler eventually had to kick him out of the garage, John said, because the sculptures he was making were taking up too much space.

At this point in the interview, John, who loves to tell stories, interrupted the chronology of his voyage into art to talk about voyages into irony.

"In Aruba I took two side trips," he said. In one he went along with whiskey smugglers on a run in their boat. Outside it looked beat up to fool authorities but inside it had two big new engines to outrun them if they needed to. At their destination he was fascinated that the Indians, who had no electricity, had refrigerators. They used them as safes to keep their treasures in.

In the other side trip he went about 1,000 miles up the Amazon River system. There he discovered, painfully, another oddity of the influx of civilization into primitive places. "In the middle of the jungle I cut my foot. And what do you think I cut it on? A broken Coke bottle.”


Stritch also made large sculptures like these beauties. But I think his first and continuing love were the ones he made from farm implements and gears and scraps of metal.

He really enjoyed working with troubled teens when he taught for 18 years at the former DeSisto School in Stockbridge. But he worries that kids have changed, that technology has captured them and they text instead of talk. In addition a lot of kids today seem to have bad attitudes, he said, and look trashy.

Courtney McMahon

But last week he saw a photo of Courtney McMahon, a PHS senior who won a VFW voice of Democracy contest. That "spark" in this beautiful girl's eye helped restore his faith in at least some of the young.

Another photo in The Eagle recently also brought him joy. It showed part of a parked bicycle covered in snow. That picture by Holly Pelcynski, he said, "was great art."

Both photos drew from him the kind of "Wow" reaction that good art brings both the artist and the viewer, he said.

Here are some more images of his work:

A sculpture he created from the innards of a piano. Stritch gives old materials a new life and purpose.


John says that when women look at this piece they see a snake and when men look at it they see a swan.


This is a large Stritch poster at the Lichtenstein. Stritch says he doesn't draw. Instead, befitting a former surgeon, he cuts pieces out of paper - black paper in this case - and glues them to the background.


This is one of my favorite Stritch paintings. It was not included in the show.



At this point in his life, John is starting to use some of his sculptures like the one on the left into digital prints like the one on the right. Stopping producing art, he says, is not an option for him.




January 10, 2014
Photo by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

What I want to know is this. If Scarlett was the sexiest woman alive in 2013, as Esquire proclaimed in November, and was the sexiest woman alive in 2006, as Esquire also proclaimed, what happened in the intervening years?  Why was Mila Kunis sexier in 2012, and Rihanna in 2011, minka Kelly in 2010, Kate Beckinsale in 2009, Halle Berry in 2008 and Charlize Theron in 2007?

Did Scarlett lose her allure, her sultry look? Did she somehow misplace those bedroom eyes, the pouty lips? Did she forget how to dress, to undress, how to walk the red carpet? Was she just not alive during those six intervening years?

Well, fortunately, someone at Esquire finally realized that once they had crowned Scarlett the Sexiest Woman Alive, at the tender age of 21, they couldn't very well keep handing the title to other people while Scarlett still trod the earth. So for the foreseeable future there will be no suspense about who is going to be handed the title. Editors sitting around their conference room table will no longer have to fight about who it is. That saves a lot of wear and tear on the staff and glamorous women. And that will be a great strike against ageism as readers Scarlett's voyage into maturity and old age. It will prove that a woman doesn't have to be in her 20s or 30s to be alluring. We'll see her at 48 and 68 and I bet she'll be lovely.

By the way the photo at the top is one of my Shoot Thrus. In the magazine, the red and black type declaring who is sexiest of them all didn't cover the actress's picture. The photo by Vincent Peters was on the back of the page of large letters. Exercising my top secret methods, I managed to photograph both sides of the page at once. To do it I tore the pages out of the magazine and left the jagged edges to give it that ripped out look.

Here's another of Peters' fine shots of Ms. Johannson, one that illustrates her worthiness. In 2006, when Esquire began naming the sexiest woman alive, she didn't look bad. Witness the shot below by Cliff Watts.  Good for you Esquire for deciding to make her sexiest for years to come - assuming my interpretation of what you've decided to do is correct.

To see the photos of the movie star and a video as well click here. You can go back through all of the previous designees from there, too. You'll also get Tom Chiarella's interview. with Scarlett. You can tell from the words that Tom savored the assignment. You will also see that he spent a good deal of space talking about the way she talks.

"Her voice is a raspy frequency in the air. Legitimately as pertinent and defining a component of her physical makeup as her lips, her cheekbones, her legs. When you're with her, you feel that voice. This bar is loud with cocktail hour, but the matter of her voice, the fact of it, hangs in the air even so — always a little sandy, somehow broken down, as if she'd been singing all day."

That voice gets a workout in Her, the 2013 movie by Spike Jones in which Joaquin Phoenix falls for the woman who is the voice of his computer - it's heart and soul. Peter Travers in a review in Rolling Stone says, " Johansson’s vocal tour de force is award-worthy." I'm looking forward to seeing - and hearing - the movie.

As Chiarella said in Esquire, "She can talk. Really talk." This is his second interview. It takes place at a lobster shack where he teaches her to play cribbage and says when she warms up she rambles, and he means that as a compliment. "She is the sexiest rambler alive. Her words: lazy, light, no particular rush. Like any game in any gin joint, breakfast place, or lobster shack, it's mostly chit-chat, general kidding around. No matter. She is to be listened to. Until the last hand, her voice sounds, as always, like she just woke up, wary, but delighted by the game she's about to play."



Just in case you forgot who this post is about, here's another of my Shoot Thrus as a subtle reminder.



January 7, 2014

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

I took advantage of the sun on Saturday to make a couple more of the photos I call "Shoot Thrus."  The one at the top is I Wanted to be a Bad Boy. Below is The Rose Tatoo. At the bottom is Don't Cry Over Spilt Beer. What's a Shoot Thru? That's a photo I take using a page taped to a sunny window which merges the face page and the page behind it. You can get interesting results.

The submerged model is Kristen McMenamy who was photographed in a 13-shot spread by Tim Walker as Hans Christian Anderson's Little Mermaid, who risks death for her love of a prince. When he marries someone else, she turns into a spirit. In this fashion editorial, McMenamy is equipped with a great mermaid tail, a pearl for her nose and high fashion clothing, often draped so her breasts are exposed. You can see the photos by clicking here.

What we have here is not some little mermaid but an unnamed model in a full-page ad for Michele watches. Supplying the roses and the handbags is an ad on the back of the page . This is not the full page. I zoomed in on the face.

This one is an ad for Hermes on one side and Stella Artois beer on the other. I turned it on its side


January 4, 2014

George Bellows, Winter Afternoon, 1909/ All Photos from the-athenaeum.org.

George Bellows nailed winter in this amazing painting, Winter Afternoon. Ironically it is housed at a place that doesn't get snow, the Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach, Florida. Yesterday in Palm Beach the low was 57 and the high 73. Yesterday in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the low was -7 and the high was 7. Winter Afternoon was painted in 1909, a year Bellows was first making a wide impression on the New York art scene, a year in which he seemed to nail just about everything he painted.

I have Museworthy, one of my favorite bloggers, to thank for showing Winter Afternoon in yesterday's post, Deep Freeze.

George Bellows, the Palisades, 1909

Bellows was a muscular painter. That is pronounced in the boxing paintings for which he is most famous. But that same power shone through in his other work of 1909.

George Bellows , Stag Night at Sharkey's, 1909

Currently the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has an exhibit of his work. It ends February 18 so there's still time to catch it. Whoops. Forget what I just wrote. It's my first mixup on what year it is. I saw the exhibit was on until February 18, 2013 and was happy because I could still see it. But no such luck Grier, it's 2014 now. Anyway, here's some of what the  museum said about Bellows:

"George Bellows (1882–1925) was regarded as one of America's greatest artists when he died, at the age of forty-two, from a ruptured appendix. Bellows's early fame rested on his powerful depictions of boxing matches and gritty scenes of New York City's tenement life, but he also painted cityscapes, seascapes, war scenes, and portraits, and made illustrations and lithographs that addressed many of the social, political, and cultural issues of the day. Featuring some one hundred works from Bellows's extensive oeuvre, this landmark loan exhibition is the first comprehensive survey of the artist's career in nearly half a century. It invites the viewer to experience the dynamic and challenging decades of the early twentieth century through the eyes of a brilliant observer.

"Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Bellows attended Ohio State University, where his athletic talents presaged a future in professional sports and his illustrations for the student yearbook heralded a career as an artist. In 1904, he left college and moved to New York to study with Robert Henri, under whose influence he became the leading young member of the Ashcan School. The Ashcan artists aimed to chronicle the realities of daily life, but often depicted them through rose-colored glasses. Bellows, the boldest and most versatile among them in his choice of subjects, palettes, and techniques—and also the youngest—treated both the immigrant poor and society's wealthiest with equanimity."


George Bellows, Blue Morning, 1909


George Bellows, Pennsylvania Station Excavation, 1909


George Bellows, Nude Girl, Miss Lillian Hall, 1909


George Bellows, The Palisades, 1909

I'm leaving you pretty close to the place we started. The Palisades was painted from roughly the same spot as Winter Afternoon.


January 2, 2014

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved
This is the spillway from the dam at Pontoosuc Lake in Pittsfield, looking as cold yesterday as my face felt near the end of the hour walk Babbie and I took through the woods in front of our house, to the Kowalczyk Brothers housing development, to North Street and back home.

Walking along the woods' trail to the Beautiful Field was a little rough because four-wheelers have gouged out ever-deepening ruts. The ruts have filled with water which has iced over. With a thin layer of snow on the ice, it was slippery so we picked our way gingerly. Babbie didn't want to fall and refracture her wrist. The cast was just removed on Monday. At the Beautiful Field we cut into the woods again along its boarder with Walden Village and the Kowalczyk houses. We cut down through the development to North Street just south of Zucchini's Restaurant. With slight variations, the houses are identical. I'd guess 30 out of the  planned 50 have been built so far. Compensating for the uniformity of the dwellings - all single-family condos in the $400,000-and-up range - are the  mountain views from the hillside property. Below is a shot of the Bousquet Ski Area taken there.

Part of the woods we tramped through - if you can call our cautious pace tramping - must have been an orchard at one time. Not too many of the fruit trees are left and the ones that remain are gnarled and twisted. Here's one in the section bordering the housing project.
Oh, in case you were wondering whether the six of us celebrating New Years Eve as we have for the past 25 years made it to midnight, we didn't. But we came close, breaking up at 11:45. Babbie and I only caught a little of Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper on CNN. She was cracking him up with her routine about how he was really a 5-year-old inside a man's body, wearing short pants, paying the emotional costs of having a socialite mother - Gloria Vanderbilt. As she went on, Anderson was cracking up and turned to the railing behind them and held on.

Since I missed so much I turned to the Huff Post. Here's what the internet paper said:

"Cooper made a fruitless attempt to control Griffin with a large poster listing the ground rules: "No Swearing, No Stripping, No Touching, No Simulations." She responded by signing Miley Cyrus' name.

Later, Cooper appeared baffled when Griffin snapped handcuffs on him and declared that she didn't have a key. "Why are you attempting to handcuff yourself to me?" he asked, laughing.

"I have been planning this for weeks," a triumphant Griffin said. "Only three people in the world knew I was going to do this."

"This is truly my worst nightmare," Cooper said. "I will gnaw off my hand."

"You're going to have to," she said. (That last comment came from the video with the piece.)




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