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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man


May 30, 2009

This is a painting by Paul Matthews, an artist I admire a great deal. I like the way he paints, his sense of story, of beauty and decay , of...

I'm struggling to put it in words so I'll switch to what Russell Banks, the author of Continental Drift and other novels, said in his essay for the catalogue of a retrospective of Matthews' work at the New Jersey State Museum in 2003.

"... at bottom, Matthews is a painter of time, human time. His paintings reveal not just that we live in time and cannot escape it, they convey what it feels like to live in time..." Banks wrote. "The pictures, whether heroic in scale or domestic miniatures, are portrayals of transience, painfully direct, honest gazes at our brief, seemingly meaningless, lonely passage between birth and death."

My friend Lew Cuyler and I drove down to Lambertville, New Jersey, early this month to look at Matthews's new studio. And for me it was also a chance to meet Paul, who is Lew's cousin. At the right is a self portrait contained in a larger painting.

His dream studio is in a downtown building Matthews and an art dealer bought and rehabilitated. His portion of the building is divided into a room where he can display paintings, his studio, large spaces for storing paintings and an office-library. Here are some shots I took.

This is the room where he displays his paintings. Below is the room where he paints.

This is Paul with a canvas, Old Man Remembering His Wives, he just pulled from his racks to show us. If you get a chance, take a look at his website. Make sure to view "New Work." It is pretty wild and wonderful.

P.S. Lew and I had a great time. We stayed overnight in Princeton with his sister Juilianna Fenn, a sculptor and retired headmistress of a junior school she founded. And we had dinner with his sister Margery Perkins, a writer of children's books and an editor. They are delightful women.



May 28, 2009

This is Runway 2  (Burning Piano) in its finished state. Or at least almost finished state. Babbie calls this "The Scary Woman."

If you refer back to May 20 and 14 you can see previous stages in the live of this acrylic painting. To see Runway 1 go to April 28.

Like its predecessor Runway 2 is 74"x48". And it is based on the Alexander McQueen design shown below.

Looking at  it  now, I think I've made her thicker through the hips and given the dress a shorter ruffle or flounce or whatever it's called at the bottom. I don't use a projector to get the body.

Mathematically I establish the size of the head, width of the shoulders, length of the arms and body. My algebra teacher, Miss Haun, would be proud of me.

I didn't draw the body first. I simply painted it in - a technique I learned in Mark Milloff's figure painting class at Berkshire Community College some years ago.

I don't do it that way all the time. Often I draw the figure on the canvas. And I did draw the piano with a red China marker before painting it.

And of course I've skipped the pattern on the dress. Sorry Mr. McQueen.


May 26, 2009


It's 10:55 p.m. and I have to do this blog before I go down to paint. I don't think I've painted in three days now because I've been building a new frame for one of the tall, narrow windows on one side of our house.

The old one rotted out, as did the framing beneath it. I haven't been able to paint because after working on the window I'm spent.

This is a portrait in sartorial splendor. My hooded sweatshirt is splattered with paint. The Bermudas were created a few days ago by taking scissors to a pair of khakis. Then there are the high black compression socks. I think they look sort of cool.


 May 24, 2009

This is Amelia Earhart after her first solo flight in 1921. She was 24 and on the verge of becoming an American icon and the subject of a mystery never  solved.

Soon after I decided to do a series paintings concentrating on fashion models on the runway, I decided to work in Amelia. Not only was she a woman in the forefront of the feminist movement, but a woman of fashion. And in her case runway took on an entirely different meaning.

Maybe she will be in my next Runway painting.

In 1928 Amelia was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. But it was as a passenger, not the pilot. Four years later she was ready to do it solo - and succeeded. Charles Lindbergh was the first to fly the ocean solo. She was the second.

In 1935 she became the first person - man or woman - to fly solo across the Pacific from Honolulu to Oakland, California.

In 1937 she decided to take on one last challenge: She wanted to be the first woman to fly around the world.

With only 7,000 miles of the trip left, she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared on a challenging leg of their trip over the Pacific Ocean.

 Her last radio communication was with an American Navy ship posted off her destination, tiny Howland Island. She was running low on  fuel and could not find the island.

No trace of the plane was ever found, despite searches that continue to this day. 

The disappearance has long been the subject of speculation. Had she ended up marooned on a Pacific Island? Had the Japanese captured her during World War II. Had the plane crashed in the Atlantic and sunk?

Below is the red Vega she flew across the Atlantic. It is on display at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.



May 22, 2009

                                                                                                                                         Photos by Grier Horner

Third Thursday is back. And it's drawing crowds again. It's good to see North Street sidewalks teeming with people. Above, fire dancer Maria Bermudez looks like she's breathing flames in front of Saint Joseph's Church.

She gave the girls, left, a thrill when she bore in on them, twirling her fire tipped chains.

I was surprised at the numbers of people on the street. This was a strong start for an event that built into a throng late last summer. 

If it keeps growing this year, I think the city is going to have to close off North Street to make room for the crowds.

It's become a community block party, except it runs from South Street up North to Linden.

Booths, tents, performers of various stripes are draws, as are art, shopping and food. But the biggest draw I think is the fun of people watching and running into friends.

There are ample opportunities to experience the joy of shopping, both on the street and in stores and galleries.

To say nothing of the joy of art. Below you have the vibrant 22-year-old painter Jackie Kearns of Lenox, among the artists being shown at the new downtown gallery on Union Street across from the Barrington Stage. The Art on No Gallery, is a coordinated effort of Annie Laurie who started the Art on No collective at 311 North St., and Mary McGuiness of Mary's Carrot Cake.

Then there was Cecilia Stevens, below, who takes art at Berkshire Community College. She is in a group show of BCC student artists that opened last night at the college's new downtown gallery at 1 Columbus Avenue.

There was the joy of singing being exercised below by pupils from Conte Community School.

And don't forget the joy of being a child.


May 20, 2009

This is where I'm at with my second Runway painting. I worked on it yesterday in two shifts: one from 12:30 a.m. to 3 a.m.; the second from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. But from the photo, I can tell it needs more work, most noticeably on the bottom of her dress. It looks too much like claws. Maybe that's OK, adding menace.


May 18, 2009

As I was going through my Jeanne d'Arc paintings this weekend to pick out 20 to enter in a contest, I realized that I had not documented all of them on my blog. I'm not sure how many of the 34 paintings I missed.

This is one of them. I think it is Number 3 in the series. It is one of the big ones.

Going through the blog I realized there is at least one that I never even photographed. Pretty sloppy record keeping on my part.



May 16, 2009

                                                                                                                                            Photos by Grier Horner 

As soon as the crew chief arrived on the job, you sensed that the shed was going to be saved. He was young, brash, a little cocky and, as it turned out, he knew what he was doing.

Later Gene would say that he had learned the trade from a man in his 50s and had added some twists of his own in 13 years on the job.

In the photo at the top, his crew, like men in a tug of war, heaves on one of the symphony of ropes they rigged yesterday to save the shed.

Ultimately they won, using strength, know how, hundreds of feet of rope, pulleys, two pickup trucks, chainsaws and ingenuity. The overhanging limb - its weight calculated in tons - did not crush the shed. When the central trunk of the multi-trunked silver maple blew down early Sunday morning, it was stopped from demolishing the little outbuilding by a steel cable that carried Verizon's phone line to my neighbors up the street. That alone was pretty amazing.

After it was decided that they couldn't get a crane in close enough to do the job, Lewis Tree Service decided to turn one of it's top crews loose on the job.

First they tied the log up like a masochist in bondage. Then the lines, that ran through a series of pulleys were hooked up the the trucks. The pickups backed up slowly, raising the log a foot off the shed.

Then the crew used another rope to slide the trunk along the cable until it was clear of the shed. Here's a sequence of three shots to show you what came next. Mike, the chainsaw guy, cut slices off the hanging limb. Then in the photo below he started the pivotal cut. With the trunks weight largely supported by the cable, Mike made a cut behind it.



When he cut through the wood, the trunk dropped a foot or so and the taught cable snapped up, slingshotting the log upwards. It's at the top left of my photo above. Mike obviously has guts.

A split second later the cut-off section, now about Mike's waist level, plunges to the ground. Then they lowered the log to the ground. Lewis Tree Service is a big East Coast outfit with more than 2500 workers. A lot of things could have gone wrong yesterday. None did.



May 14, 2009

This is the second painting in my new series, Runway. It's still a work in progress. I thought the armored look was a nice touch by the designer, Alexander McQueen.

McQueen's dress was patterned. I decided to go with solid red instead. And the designer didn't have a burning piano on the catwalk. Her face and head look awkward. I'll work on them, along with everything else.

On another subject the tree still overhangs our shed. (See my May 12 post.) Verizon had a bunch of guys pondering what to do yesterday for an hour or two. They couldn't find a practical way to remove the tree without risking serious damage to the shed.

What's holding them up now are legal considerations: Who sues who if they destroy the shed. I wouldn't sue but my insurer might.

Stay tuned.


May 12, 2009

Hanging over our shed like the Sword of Damocles is a ton of silver maple. It is what's left of the center section of a giant tree. Suspended by a steel utility cable, the beautiful beast was felled by high winds about 2:30 a.m. Sunday.

It hung there all day Sunday, all day Monday and it will probably be there all day today. And maybe tomorrow.

The topmost branches slapped our deck hard when it came down, scaring the bejesus out of us. While we have some branches on the deck, it didn't seem to do any damage to the house. Twenty feet higher, and the tree would have entered our house uninvited.

The chainsaw guy who cut the thing down to its present size at 6 a.m. Sunday warned me not to go into the shed. He said the tree could topple at any time, crushing the building. If you look closely you can already see the damage it inflicted to our brick barbeque, probably built after World War II by the previous owner. We've been cooking blue fish, chicken and hamburgers there since 1966.

Apparently our insurance company will pay for a tree company to try to move in a big piece of equipment to try to hoist the tree to save the shed. That would save them a lot of money because they had placed the shed's value at $21,000.

But the company says the heavy equipment is going to put deep ruts in our soft lawn. I have to find out who pays to repair that damage.

We're told the cable that amazingly kept this magnificent hulk from demolishing the shed is owned by the telephone company.

In the smaller photo you can see part of the tree and the deck it slapped as it crashed.

From that deck Babbie and I have enjoyed the canopy provided by the leaves of two silver maples - neither on our property - as we ate summer suppers.

The repair work on the side of the building, isn't from the tree. I'm rebuilding the water-rotted framing under a long, narrow window. Babbie and I took the window out. Now I have to build a new box for it and reinstall it.

Ah, the joy of projects, endless projects.


May 10, 2009

This painting, Jeanne d'Arc (Number 5), has been sold. I delivered it to North Adams today and hung it in an art-filled apartment occupied by a very classy woman. I'm glad it found a good home.

It is the first of the 34 paintings in the series to find a home. This one is something like 68"x 49". So it's one down and 33 to go.

I've been watching videos of models on the catwalk in connection with my new series of paintings, Runway. You can see the painting in my April 28 post.


May 8, 2009

This cloud drifted across the sky behind my house yesterday afternoon. I took the shot from the house. It looks like the top of an outstretched polar bear paw to me. Of course I've never seen an outstretched polar bear paw.

I got a good start on a new Runway painting yesterday afternoon and late last night. I'm excited about it.


May 6, 2009

Maziarz, Part Three.

This painting, Seminary Entrance, was done by the late John Maziarz of Adams in 1956 and is in the collection of the Berkshire Museum. It is shown here by the courtesy of the museum.

Although he was known for his landscapes, this early piece demonstrates an interest in religion that recurred in Maziarz' work until his death at 73 last year.

Maziarz may have been religious. But he was also irreverent. That characteristic is emblazoned on his grandson Vale Maziarz' right arm in a humorous tribute to the man.

Vale said the tattoo was based on a photo taken at a wedding when John became impatient with a photographer.

In condolences posted after his death, some of John's former students at Mount Greylock Regional, extolled their art teacher.

"He was a fabulous teacher and a larger than life character...," said Sandra Briney, who took art in the 60's.

"I remember one day in English class, when the atmosphere of the class had sort of become a half conscious buzz," she wrote. "Mr. Maziarz burst into the room, shouting something, or singing, and wearing a viking's helmet, with two big horns sticking out of either side of his head. He was wild and magnificent, and his eyes glittered with delight!"

Joan Garnett, also a Greylock student in the '60s, wrote that his art room "was my home away from home. If I think of high school, I think of that place because he made it possible to live and breathe and become ourselves, with humor and creativity."


His friend Spike Riley says, "I don't think John said anything politically correct in his life."

Riley, a New Jersey contractor who taught with Maziarz at Mount Greylock in the old days, is trying to drum up interest in preserving the Maziarz art.

The Seminary Entrance came to the museum through a purchase award at a Berkshire Art Association show, a big annual cultural event in the Berkshires until it was dropped by one of a succession of directors who proceeded Stuart Chase.

Chase has ended the museum's crisis of identity and its dizzying turnover of leadership as it struggled to find its place in the world.

Under Chase, it has been mounting impressive shows - the current one on Perry's expedition to the North Pole is a sterling example. And the museum under Chase has returned to its mission as a place to see art as well.

Getting back to Maziarz. (Above is one of his landscapes) I am fascinated by his case not only because he was an influential teacher, a colorful character and a fine artist, but because he left his kids with something like 200 paintings.

That's in store for my kids at some point - later rather than sooner, I hope.

What do you do with it all? A bonfire?

In Maziarz' case there is a good chance that Riley has triggered an effort to find a market for his paintings.



May 4, 2009

Maziarz, Part Two

This is Swale by Tank Farm, not by Maziarz, but by Dennis Pinette, a student he inspired as an art teacher at Mount Greylock Regional School in Williamstown.


Pinette, who lives in Belfast, Maine, has become a significant artist. In 2005 the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, conducted an interview with him as part of its oral history for the Archives of American Art. One thing Pinette talked about in the long interview, conducted by Susan C. Larsen, was the importance of John Maziarz in his life.

Interestingly, the interview also shows the value to a budding artist of access to museums like the Clark Art Institute and Williams College Museum of Art.

This is an excert from the interview (You can read the whole thing by clicking this link.):

MR. PINETTE: "I just looked and looked and looked and tried to understand the genius of simplicity, you know, in, say, the paintings of Fragonard, of which the Clark Art Institute has several. They're elegant but brutally direct paintings, in their paint application. So I was as much looking at the imagery even then as I was looking at the way the paint was sculpted, and how almost in a fractal-like way the strokes added up to an image. It was an incredibly mysterious thing.

DR. LARSEN:  You were already sort of taking it apart and reconstructing it in your mind?

MR. PINETTE: Yeah. (Below is a detail of one of Pinette's recent paintings Dark Sky, Burning Forest.)

DR. LARSEN: Did you have any help or guidance about this?

MR. PINETTE: I had a fantastically good and influential teacher. His name was John. D. Maziarz, who is-he's a recognized painter in - he lives in Adams, Massachusetts. He was-

DR. LARSEN: Can you spell that?

MR. PINETTE: Yup, John D. Maziarz, M-A-Z-I-A-R-Z. He was my junior high and high school art teacher at Mount Greylock [Regional High School, Williamstown, MA], and he was - I would say he was crucial, really crucial, in letting his students know the importance of this choice that you're making about, being an artist; that there was nothing frivolous or silly about it; that it was demanding and that at the same time it afforded you certain creative possibilities unavailable elsewhere. I mean, you are making something out of nothing and you are making something that is really deeply personal, and that it has - that the nature of art has all of this amazing power to provoke a viewer; that the logical conclusion to making it is to have others eyes see it. Plus, he was a very funny guy, on purpose. He was gruff, but very sensitive, very cool, very cool guy.

DR. LARSEN: Did he take you to museum and show you things, or did he leave that up to you?

MR. PINETTE: That was left up to us, we didn't really do field trips or anything like that, but he did have - and probably Williams College still has this painting. I remember it like it was yesterday, it was called: Painting July Green, Green, Green, and it was a big oil on canvas that Mr. Maziarz had done. I guess it was purchased by the Williams College Museum and it was just astounding to me to go see this painting, and I knew the painter.


MR. PINETTE: You know, and that -

DR. LARSEN: And he knew you, too.

MR. PINETTE: Yeah. And so the connection was real. And it all kind of made, you know, a logical sense. I know this man. He is my teacher. Here is his painting, and it's hanging here, and everyone's looking at it.

DR. LARSEN: And this is a place of honor.

MR. PINETTE: Yes. I remember thinking to myself, this must make Mr. Maziarz feel like his work is worth something, you know.

In 2003 the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine, presented a retrospective of Pinette's work: The Lucid Mark: 15 Years of Painting by Dennis Pinette."

In 2008 the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport showed more than 40 of his paintings.



May 2, 2009

Maziarz, Part One.

John Maziarz of Adams died last year at 73 leaving a treasure trove of paintings in his studio overlooking Mount Greylock, a frequent subject of his art. This is Part One of (probably) two posts about the man, his art and his teaching.

His grandson Vale Maziarz sent me this shot a Maziarz landscape so I could substitute it for the one I had taken at his studio Tuesday. Mine was spoiled by glare from the flash.

Mount Greylock is at the top right, its landslides in gold. Then there is the large circle, another frequent object in his work. Based on his frequent paintings of angels, the circle may represent a halo. Here's a host of his angels. His family said the angel faces were usually those of family and friends. His late wife Cecilia was a frequent subject.

What do his survivors do with all these paintings? His son Jeffrey of Springfield and daughter Liane of Adams and Vale, a Berkshire Community College student, felt they needed to save the paintings but didn't know how to go about it.

In stepped a New Jersey contractor, Spike Riley. Not long after graduating from Williams College, where he studied art, Spike taught a few years at Mount Greylock High School in Williamstown. That's where he met John, a legendary art teacher at that school where he taught more than 30 years before retiring in 1999. (One of Spike's students was Peter Dudak, head of the Storefront Artists Project in Pittsfield.)

Spike called me out of the blue and I suggested a few people he might contact, including Stuart Chase, head of the Berkshire Museum, and Leslie Ferrin of the Ferrin Gallery in Pittsfield.

Spike showed them pictures of John's work. They liked what they saw and went up to visit John's studio. I tagged along. They were fascinated with what they found and they are going to look for a solution.

One Maziarz painting is already in the Berkshire Museum collection and the Williams College Museum of Art also has a large landscape.




Seth Harwood, writer

Leslie, poet

Joe Goodwin, painter

Juliane: bimbopolitics

Lisa Reinke, painter

John Mitchell, commentary

Charles Guiliano, MAVERIC, art critic

Saatchi Gallery

Steve Satullo, movies

Christine Heller, artist


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