Scarlet Letter
Tramp Steamer
Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

March 30, 2010

Self Portrait, March 29, 2010/All Rights reserved

Sure, I know. April Fool's Day isn't until tomorrow. This may look like I jumped the gun. But it marks the start of a new art project. Every morning when I get up, I'm going to take some photos of myself.

I've been doing it now for a couple days. I'll try to keep going through April. Maybe it will become a habit. Maybe a bad habit.

But it's one way to live up to the title of this blog: Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man. The Old Man will be 75 in June.

I'm not going to inflict a new one on you throughout the period. Or should I? Some I will probably use as the basis for paintings. Many will never see the light of day. Maybe at the end of the thing, I can print them all and create a Wall of Me.

That would put a stamp of truth on what Babbie sometimes says, "With you Grier, it's all about ME, ME, ME."

Below you have my second collage in the homage series to fashion designer Gareth Pugh and filmmaker Ruth Hogben. (See my March 26th post for the first.) This one measures 40" x 22.5" and is on paper. One thing that attracted me to this pattern as I arranged the cutouts different ways, was that the four black parallelogram's marching down the center of the paper look to me like sharks with white mouths.



March 28, 2010

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

The ice left Pontoosuc Lake during the week. On Monday you could still see the tracks pickup trucks etched on the ice when it was still thick and hard. But to go out on it at this point would be inviting catastrophe and you knew its days were numbered.

The week before there were days when the ice turned the dull green that signals it is decaying. Then last weekend the temperature climbed into the 60s.

By Tuesday or Wednesday it had broken up and large flows were driven against the shore and into the channel. A day later there were only occasional scraps of ice. Friday, when I took the shot above, the lake was ice free.

Well almost ice free. It had turned cold again by Thursday and the spray from wind-driven chop froze on the railing of these steps at the Blue Anchor, steps used by ski mobiles in winter and swimmers in summer.

I love to walk the lake in winter, especially on sparkling days when the mountains, stretched out like hibernating giants, are white under the stubble of their trees.

The wind dictates your course on cold days. You avoid walking into it. If you do your face feels so painfully brittle you turn a cold shoulder to the wind.



March 26, 2010*

Photos by Grier Horner

This is part of the Runway series, I guess, but strays from it significantly in the overall pattern and the fact that it's collage.

To get the individual figure that I repeated 16 times, I am using a still I shot from a video made for designer Gareth Pugh by Ruth Hogben, a British film maker.  You can watch the video at this link.

I made a circular piece of paper 40 inches in diameter and then glued the images of the dancer to it. The four tabs projecting from the rim are for pinning it to the wall. But when the work is mounted they would be removed.

Here's a close up of the center of the piece.


I may have gotten the idea of doing a collage in paper from work I saw by Debra Hampton at Priska Juschka Fine Art, one of my favorite galleries in Chelsea.

She makes them using cutouts from magazines, watercolor and ink. They're pretty wild. The show's up until April 3. Here's another, a detail from a large-scale work.

* This post was modified at 5:30 March 25.



March 24, 2010

Paintings by Grier Horner/All rights reserved

I would have sworn that I showed you some of my Cathedral paintings this year. But I did an archive search and didn't find any.

So here are a few from the series.

The one at the top is my favorite. It was toward the end of the series and by that time I had started using stylized flames to form the cathedral's structure.

And another.


Here's one that didn't rely on the fire motif for the structure. The inspiration for this one came from Franz Kline's New York, New York, below.

He packed a lot of power in those slashing brush strokes. It looked like a cathedral to me, or the Twin Towers collapse. Referencing a masterwork is not a very bright idea. My painting suffers in comparison.

New York, N. Y., by Franz Kline



March 22, 2010

On the night the House passed President Obama's health care reform, it may seem a little shallow to be blogging about high fashion. And it is.

In doing my research for my runway paintings I was struck by these photos of Christian Dior designer John Galliano and his models.

These were shot at Dior's ready-to-wear show in Paris earlier this month by Monica Feudi/ for

To see all 47 photos, go to this link.

From ready-to-wear I'm taking you to an outfit by Gareth Pugh that I don't think many Berkshire women are ready to wear.

The images are from a video made for Pugh, sometimes called the enfant terribles of London fashion. impressive, slightly sinister video was made for Pugh by Ruth Hogben, an English filmaker. Here's a link to the seven-minute video.




March 20, 2010*

This is the late Jay DeFeo's magnificent painting The Rose , all 11 feet by 8 feet of it, all 3000 pounds of it.

DeFeo worked obsessively on this work for eight years or more and it was saved from oblivion by the Whitney Museum in New York City some years after her death.

I saw it there in 2003 and was struck with awe.

What brought it to mind was a short film, The White Rose. It's a fascinating piece by a legendary avant-garde filmaker, Bruce Conner, about DeFeo's legendary painting. Conner was the subject of my last post.

I shot these photos while the film was rolling. I found The White Rose - along with VIVIAN and Conner's most famous film, A MOVIE - on a foreign website:  (His film titles were all Caps all the time.)

Above, a large crew from Beekin movers arrives at DeFeo's San Francisco study one morning in 1966.


Removing it was no simple assignment. The piece had to be pried from the wall, laid on the floor, protected by a crate built on the spot, lowered to street level and loaded on the moving van.

Interviewed in a second film above this heroic painting - Conner says, "She kept changing it. As time went by it was the only identity she had with any exterior reality. And I think the white lead (in the paint) had an effect... So after about seven years, Jay and her husband were being evicted from this flat, probably because Jay had become so crazy."

"During the lunch break," Conner says, "I turned around and she was lying on the wrapped-up canvas itself, as though it was a double bed, and so it seemed symbolically as if she were packaged into it herself..."

Too remove it from the building the crew removed a bay window and then cut out a section of the wall below the window. A hydraulic lift was raised and the painting was pushed onto it, lowered and placed in the moving van.

"...and it was the end of the road and it was the end of Jay," Conner said. "...All that day I wondered if Jay was going to go out the window herself...Several times she went out on the ledge...sitting precariously on this cliff with the ground below her 40 or 50 feet."

As it turned out, this wasn't the end of Jay or the painting. For a few years she abandoned painting, but then she started working on The Rose again at the San Francisco Art Institute where it was being stored.

The Institute eventually walled over the painting and DeFeo turned her talent to other art and to teaching until her death at 60 in 1989.

Toward the end of her life DeFeo spoke of a dream in which she came back in the future and wandered from room to room in a museum and suddenly found The Rose. A patron was admiring it.

"You know," she tells the patron, "I did that."

And aside from the part about her finding the painting, that's pretty much what happened.

The Whitney bought it several years after her death and raised money for its restoration, which included a steel and fiberglass framework capable of supporting the ton of paint. So this painting lives.

Seeing it - and I don't know when it will be on view at the Whitney - is incredible.




March 18, 2010

Photos by Grier Horner

Today it's my shots of Bruce Conner's last film before his death, a lyrical, hallucinogenic 10-minute video about resurrection called EASTER MORNING.

I'm learning a lot on my Gallery Quests. I had never seen Viola Frey's ceramic giants (see my February 21 post) or heard of Conner, much less seen a film by this guy I now discover was an avant-garde legend with Beat roots.

I got to see EASTER MORNING at the Susan Inglett Gallery just before the show closed. Smitten by Hope Gangloff's paintings at Susan Inglet (see my November 16 post), I returned to the gallery on West 24th Street in late February, took a cursory look at Conner's late collage pieces and left. They weren't my cup of tea.

Returning to Manhattan March 11 for Gallery Quest 8, I went back to see Conner again, feeling I hadn't given him a chance.

Still not my cup, but then Susan Inglett suggested I take a look at his 2008 EASTER MORNING which was playing in a curtained alcove that I had overlooked.

I sat down and watched it twice and loved it. I fired away with my little Nikon, getting a lot of still pictures of the moving picture. Here are some more of them :


"Conner's exquisite final work is a step-printed reinterpretation of footage from his 1966 unreleased film, EASTER MORNING RAGA, that further reveals his abiding interest in the psychedelic as an alternate way of seeing," The Harvard Film Archive said.

This was his only video in which he shot all the images. His earlier style was spicing pieces of film he was given, found or purchased into a frenetic whole. Perhaps his most famous was his first A Movie.

In an interview with Doug Aitken in 2003, Conner talked about why he made A MOVIE:

"Basically for years, I'd been playing with bits and pieces of different films in my head, and I kept assembling and reassembling this immense movie using pictures and sounds and music from all sorts of things. I'd been waiting for someone to come up with a movie like this. And nobody did."

Then Aitken said, "It's as if your mind instinctively wanted to construct one single movie out of every movie you'd ever seen."

Conner died at 74 in 2008, the same year he produced EASTER MORNING. In it's obit, the New York Times said:

"A restlessly inventive and unpredictable artist who avoided typecasting and irascibly resisted the demands of the commercial gallery system, Mr. Conner worked in a surprising variety of media and styles.."


March 16, 2010

(revised March 18 with new photos)

After reworking painting



This is Amelia Earhart, Number Eight in my series of Runway paintings. I've had a hard time with this one, painting and repainting parts of it over and over. I hope it's done.

(Well it wasn't done. Last night I worked on it more, toning down the plane and trying to smooth out the folds in the coat. This was after consulting with my art guru, F.X. Tobin. I'm also adding a detail of Amelia's face. There are folds in the new photo that will not be present when the painting is stretched. The difference in background color is accounted for by the light where each was shot. "Before" was taken in my basement studio and the new one outdoors.)

To a certain extent my problem with the painting is a problem with my trouble getting acrylics to do what I want them to.

I had been using acrylics for my spilled-paint Jeanne d'Arc paintings because they flowed down a vertical canvas easily. Then when I returned to figurative work in 2009, I decided to work in acrylic because of the challenge of trying to make that fast-drying paint work for me in figurative paintings.

Now I wonder how I would be doing if I had tackled this series in oils, the paint I usually use. Certainly I would be working with more assurance.

Behind Amelia is her first plane. It was yellow and she called it Canary.

The painting is six feet high by four feet wide.



March 16, 2010

Part Two

I gradually grew fond of Anselm Keifer's sculpture of the San Francisco freeway collapse during the big earthquake. But now his Etroits sont les Vaisseux (Narrow are the Vessels) has been removed from the MASS MoCA after a long stay.

If you'll allow me a little curatorial reconstruction, I think it would have looked great on the front lawn of Inigo Manglano-Ovalle's glass house project, Gravity Is a Force to be Reckoned With.

It would be doubly appropriate because the long concrete sculpture came to MoCA because of a legal dispute over its placement on the front lawn of an art collector in a tony  Connecticut town on the Sound.

I missed Etoits when I visited the museum with a friend Sunday. More than that, Keifer's great paintings, which also ended up in MoCA because of the lawn flap, are also gone. They were the best thing in the museum. But all good things come to an end.

On Sunday, for the first time, I heard the phone on the desk in the upside-down Manglano-Ovalle's house ring. When it did the face of the caller flashed onto the phone's screen and you could hear the message. Then the screen goes black and the phone doesn't ring again for perhaps 10 minutes.

After this guy calls, and minutes drift by, the phone rings and its a woman. She says, I believe, that she loves the man who lives in the house but he's fouled everything up. Maybe that's what she said. I've got to go back and hang around the house and listen to the messages again. There's a third message, too, this one with no face. And maybe, if you hang around  long enough, there are others.



March 14, 2010

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

More Manhattan photos from Gallery Quest 8 last Thursday. Here you have the crowd, intense on getting home, at the evening crush in a subway passage.

Below you have a street sign for tequila, a beverage that may be on the minds of some of the subway riders.

A couple crosses 10th Avenue at 24th Street.

I liked this black doorway in a brick building in the Chelsea art district.

Finally, a young woman on a red bike passes a delivery truck.



March 12, 2010

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Gallery Quest continues. Yesterday's search - Number Eight - took me to Chelsea again. I keep seeing art I like, galleries I like. Someday I'm going to be in one of them.

As usual I was armed with my stealth Nikon and shot 247 pictures. Here are a few of them.

The natty old man at the bus shelter is enjoying a cup of coffee under the watchful eye of a young woman who prefers coco.

Here a young athlete is about to boot a soccer ball at the net tended by a friend.

A yellow glass building facade serves as a fun-house mirror. Here's my reflection in the same glass.

An old woman, walking slowly and with difficulty, prepares to cross. I wonder if she has a home.

This is my glass of barbera, perched on the bar at Trestle on Tenth. The bartender and a waitress are seen through the glass lightly.

"Does red wine go with pea soup?" I had joked before ordering.

The young woman smiled. "The barbera's what we all pick when our shifts end," she said. I ordered it. And the soup was terrific, as it always is at this small, brick-walled restaurant. So was the wine.


March 10, 2010

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

This year has been a rush. In the last 12 months three solo shows, a talk at the Berkshire Museum and now this:


I don't have to tell you what facility this is in. I think you can tell from the setting.

The exhibit, Fire and Ice, consists of two of my photographs blow up to a 40-foot height. They are on either side of a slowly revolving support suspended from the ceiling.

Pretty wild.

At this size and in this setting the photos, Ice Age and Liquid Gold have monumentality. In the former you see continents, mountains, seas, drift, fault lines.

The other is all molten space, maybe a closeup of a galaxy, the origin of our sun, lashing rain in a parking lot late at night.

Wait until you stumble across this gallery in the under-explored depths of the former Sprague Electric plant.

One of the wonderful things about this show is it's slow-motion spin.

As it sweeps its 360 degree arc, you eventually see both sides just standing in one place. And you will get entirely different slants on the photos as they move almost imperceptibly through their rotation.

Fire and Ice is located in the inner reaches of the sprawling complex and some say it's hard to find.

But how can I complain. I always wanted to be here before I hit 80. And look at this. Just look at this.

March 10, 2010

Part Two

In MASS MoCA's main gallery, Inigo Manglano-Ovalle's Gravity is a Force to Be Reckoned With is truly a force to be reckoned with.

Manglano-Ovalle's piece is an upside down version of Mies van der Rohe's 50x50 House from 1951 - a house that was never built until now.

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

I'm attaching a link here so you can read the museum's description of what Manglano-Ovalle was up too. See if you agree with me that the whole concept is a little over intellectualized. Maybe that's not surprising: the artist is a Williams College graduate.

This exhibit is growing on me though. A house that's all windows in a gallery that's all windows.

Here's another shot from the same room. Instead of looking at the glass house, it focuses on the mill-workers' houses that have been remodeled into the Porches inn. From rags to riches.

Contrasting the once lowly houses outside with the high-born structure inside makes a fascinating juxtaposition.

Recently Sebastian Snee wrote a good review on the art at MoCA and several other area art museums. But to my dismay he overlooked my piece. Maybe he couldn't find the new gallery. That's understandable. I've had trouble finding it myself.

P.S. Snee also reviewed exhibits at the Clark, Williams College Museum of Art and the Berkshire Museum's exciting Armed and Dangerous. Hit this link to read the review.



March 8, 2010

Photos by Grier Horner/ All rights reserved

This is the principal dancer, Ruth Amarante, in Pina Bausch's fiery version of the Rite of Spring, a ballet with music by Igor Stravinsky.

On YouTube the other day I stumbled across a seven-minute video of Bausch's version of this ballet and took a series of 140 photos of the amazing performance playing on my computer screen.

I know nothing about dance, really, and had not heard of Pina Bausch. You can see this fierce and frenetic video by clicking on the link

Bausch died on June 30 last year at the age of 68, five days after learning she had cancer. In a five-star review of Bausch's dance company at the Sadler Wells in London, Judith Mackrell, a critic at the Guardian, praised the choreographer's ability to "combine movement of shocking visceral intensity with stage visions of often hallucinogenic strangeness."

Bausch created her version of the ballet in 1975 and it sealed her reputation as a major force in dance.

The ballet was originally choreographed by Vaslov Nijinsky and was radical in both music and performance. When it opened in Paris in 1913, fights broke out in the audience and the din of the crowd continued until the final curtain.

The violent reaction at the opening was called a riot. While the response is usually said to have been triggered by the music, some contend it was actually Nijinsky's dance that set the crowd off.

The ballet's story line is that in pegan times a man annually selects one woman to be the sacrifice to the god of Spring. And that dancer, donning a red dress, is required to dance so wildly she dies.




March 5, 2010

Photos by Riley Nichols / All rights reserved

These things seem so far off when you first learn you're going to do them. At  that point you have months to think about it, prepare for it, look forward to it. And then the designated night comes and you do it.

And you love doing it. You find you come alive on stage. That you're at ease talking to all these people, thriving on their laughter, thriving on being the center of attention.

And then of course it is finished and you talk to many of the people who came to the Berkshire Museum to listen and watch the slides and you hope you'll get a chance to do this again somewhere.

So thanks to the Pittsfield Cultural Council for inviting me to talk about my art as part of its annual Eye to Ear series.

Thanks to the museum for providing the space and covering the costs associated with staying open late. And for appointing Craig Langlois, the      , to work with me. Without him I couldn't have pulled off the technical end of a powerpoint presentation.

And my apologies to all the people i didn't get a chance to talk with after the show. I wanted to say hello to every one of the 60 people there.


This was one of the 150 slides I projected on the big screen during the one-hour talk. It's me trying my best to look like the character from the painter Odd Nerdrum's post-apocalyptic world. Let me say it was great seeing my paintings, which are large, presented in a much larger format.

This is a self portrait by Rembrandt which I used to illustrate am objective of Jenny Saville, a British painter, to have paint convey a narrative in flesh.

Because of the difficulty of shooting in a darkened auditorium, Riley got this tremendous shot. It doesn't catch the amazing brush strokes Rembrandt used to build flesh and narrative in this self portrait.

But her photo creates a new work of art. Some of what she  does is hit or miss. But this time the fifth grader hit it out of the ballpark. Several of her former teachers and her current art teacher attended.

As you've undoubtedly gathered, my night at the museum was a highlight of my life.

The presentation was a retrospective of my work over the 12 years since I left The Berkshire Eagle at 62 to become a painter.

Oh, by the way, if you were wondering why I was wearing an overcoat in the photo at the top, it was part of my shtick. (In the interest of full disclosure, that picture was heavily doctored in my electronic darkroom.)

Back to the overcoat. In the early part of the presentation I mentioned that deciding what to wear had been a big element in this event. I showed slides of my urban running-with-the-wolves outfit, of a suit that had a skirt instead of pants, and a dandy's double-breasted suit - all apparel I claimed I had considered.

Then I pulled off the overcoat to display  what I was wearing. An anticlimax. I had come as myself.



March 3, 2010

This is Amelia Earhart with Canary, her yellow, five-cylinder biplane. It's my latest painting in the Runway series and is still in progress. Although it's a pun, I had thought of her from the time I conceived the series last year.

Amelia was not only the most famous aviatrix of her time - if not all time - but a style-setting dresser.

This painting comes from several photographs. Fortunately for me she apparently loved having her picture taken. She was also the genuine article, a trail-blazing woman pilot.

The first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, she landed in a pasture in Northern Ireland after a difficult trip.

"Have you flown far?" a farmhand asked her.

"From America," she said.


Always in the back of your mind when you deal with the Amelia Earhart story is the crash that took her life. With Fred Noonan as navigator, she was trying to fly around the world in 1937 and only had to finish island hopping across the Pacific to accomplish that goal.

She and Noonan left New Guinea headed for low-lying Howland Island which was barely over a mile long. It had the only landing field in that stretch of ocean.


They reached the island's neighborhood but were unable to sight it or the US Coastguard cutter Itasca which was to be their radio beacon to guide them into Howland.

The men on the ship could pick up her radio transmissions, but for some reason she was unable to receive their replies.

"We must be on you but cannot see you," she said in one of her last transmissions. "But gas is running low. Have been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet."

The ship would later report that that transmission came in loud and clear, indicating she was nearby.

Neither the 37-year-old pilot, her navigator nor her plane were ever found, leading to speculation about their fate that continues today.

P.S. If you get a chance take a look at Amanda Rae Busch's fine piece on the dean of Pittsfield artists, Julio Granda, 78. You can see it by clicking this link or reading it in the magazine.


March 1, 2010

The illustrated talk I'm giving March 4 at 7 p.m. at the Berkshire Museum is a retrospective of 14 years of painting so I've been pulling out paintings that caught my attention for one reason or another. I showed you a bunch in my last post.

The Mac 10 semi-automatic pistol with a silencer (above) was one of about eight paintings in my Gunrunner show at Berkshire Community College in 2004.

It was my feeling in painting the guns that at this point in history it was small arms, not the A bomb, that were the pivotal weapons.

This painting was probably done in 1999. I had taken a lot of photos of the model, Anita MacFarland, at the ship embedded in the lot at the Coltsville Shopping Center.

I had wanted to paint one of her about 12 feet tall but the ceiling in my studio was only eight from the floor. So I decided to divide her in two so I could get her in a painting a little over six feet high.

From that came the title, Long Division. A woman who had a nice art collection in Williamstown was going to buy it. She hung it in her condo on a trial basis. She told me it overpowered everything else and gave it back.

The painting above is from my Tramp Steamer series painted in the early 2000s. Using cardboard and paint I tried to create hulls, leaving holes in them so you could see the contraband in the hold.

It was one of the times I painted the subject from life. I would like to do that more often but it's too expensive.

The painting below is one of three I did about that time called Facing the Void.


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