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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

May 31, 2014

Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Jeanne d'Arc was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431 in Rouen, France. She was 19 andhad been found guilty of heresy by the English and Burgundian forces she had defeated in a number of battles in the Hundred Years War. Jeanne, an unschooled peasant girl, lead French forces to a major victory over the English at Orleans.

It was not just a victory it was a rout. She mounted an aggressive frontal attack, a departure from the French military's timidity and in the process became a hero to the French and a threat to the English. King Charles, who owed his crown to her, did nothing to help her. He and his advisors saw her huge popularity among the people as a threat to her power.

Years later she was retried - of course she was  dead at this point - and found innocent. In 1920, the girl who heard voices directing her to save France, was ordained a saint by the Catholic Church. As my friend Donna reminded me today, she was the only person convicted of heresy by the church to become a saint. She remembered that from parochial school at Notre Dame in Pittsfield.


This is a fine sculpture of Joan by Judith Shea. If you will look closely at my computer drawing at the top you will see her face amid the flames at the top.

Jeanne d'Arc was not just a figurehead. She planned the military strategy, led the troops into battle and fought bravely beside them, according to the accounts of officers in her army. Wounded in one engagement, she had the arrow pulled out and continued to fight. I have been fascinated with this teenage wonder since I read the long transcript of her trial in 2001. Although written by her adversaries, the transcript demonstrated her brilliance. She outwitted some of the best minds of her time in portions of the proceeding, in which she had no lawyer or legal advice.

At trial they set out to demonstrate that the voices she heard were not those of saints, as she claimed. Just before her execution, she recanted her testimony and would have been spared the brutal death. But the next day she took back the recantation and was consumed by the flames. They burned her remains two more times to make sure there were no bits or pieces of her left behind as relics.

(It is interesting to note she was also on trial for dressing like a man. That was a crime also punishable by death. (In fashion as in battle, she was hundreds of years ahead of her time.)

My fascination with this teenage hero lead to my series of 38 Jeanne d'Arc paintings. Here are a couple:



At 36" x 24" the painting above is among the smallest in the series.



This painting in oil was done by an unknown artist sometime between 1450 and 1500. It is at the Archives nationales in Paris. The only known portrait painted during her lifetime was apparently destroyed or lost. Below is a World War I poster urging American women to save their country by buying War Savings Stamps.


Jean Seberg in the 1957 film Saint Joan.

Over the years statues of Jeanne d'Arc were erected all over France and America. The one above is in Nanterre, France.

This one is in Washington, DC.


This one's in Paris.


And to end this piece, here are two more of my paintings. Some of these are very large. The one above is 80" x 45". All those shown in this post - along with many more - are still available. If you're interested, contact my dealer, Yoram Gil at www.galleryyoramgil.com.




May 25, 2014

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

MASS MoCA has mounted one of its best shows - and perhaps it's most beautiful - with Teresita Fernandez: As Above So Below which opened last night. It will be at the North Adams museum for almost a year. I found it exhilarating.

Above a woman, her stance expressive, takes in Fernandez's Golden (Odyssey) an India ink drawing on gold chroming and wood panels. The drawings are powerful but also beautiful - at a time when beauty is suspect in the art world.

"I give a lot of importance to the sensual and the sensorial aspect of engagement," the artist has said. "I love to seduce the viewer...(into) projecting their own explanation or fantasy onto what it is I have made."


Teresita Fernandez is the stylish woman at the right talking to a group last night in front of her Keifer-sized drawing, the title of which escapes me. Curator Denise Markonish is at the left. I had never heard of this Brooklyn-based artist before. Like many artists shown here, Fernandez is on the brink of becoming big time. Joe Thompson, the driving force behind converting the former factory into a museum and the director since it's inception, said this is the first time she has had a solo show in a major museum. But she is well known in some art circles and is by no means a starving artist.


And seduce me Fernandez's drawings did.  Above are Golden (Scroll 1) and Golden (Scroll 2). They are each 108 inches long and 12 inches high.

This is the piece from which the show takes its title.

Spread over nearly the entire first floor, this is among my top six exhibits at a facility that has had a lot of great shows - as well as a few duds - and is now celebrating its 15th anniversary. My other favirutes were Anselm Keifer's huge landscapes of fields scorched by war, Ann Hamilton's spiritual (and unintentionally festive) falling paper, Zu Bing's spectacular Phoenix, the etherial Material World, and Jenny Holzer's hypnotic projection of lines of poetry over every surface of the darkened main gallery.

Put together by Denise Markonish, one of the museum's two curators, As Above So Below also features installations and sculpture by the artist. But for me what makes the show great are the drawings. Below is Black Sun made of thousands of translucent tubes suspended from the ceiling of this triple height gallery.

And by the Sfumato (Epic) installation of countless small pieces of graphite attached to the walls in a site-specific piece that wanders  several hundred feet. And below that is a close-up of a small patch of her graphite mega-work.




Then there is this floor installation, Lunar (Theatre), with its 1,500 pounds of glass beads over a shiny gold platform that reflects the light from the windows that look out over the Porches Inn.


Here is a small sculpture, Bonsai, which stands alone at one end of the big downstairs gallery, casting its shadow below and its reflection above.

One of the intriguing things about the golden chrome parts of the Golden drawings is the way the viewer becomes part of the landscape. In this case the figure in the center is me. The Golden series was done this year and last and all the rest is from 2014, I believe.


Of course Fernandez is not the first to work with reflective surfaces to bring the surroundings into the picture plane. I used silver mylar in a number of the over 30 paintings I did in the Jeanne d'Arc series. And of course I got the idea from another artist, who undoubtedly got it from another artist.  This piece is 57" x 42" and is available through Gallery Yoram Gil, http://www.galleryyoramgil.com/.  I love this one.





May 19, 2014


Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

St. Francis Gallery in South Lee opened a strong show Saturday and introduced a major talent, Casey Krawczyk, to the Berkshires.

When I saw her brooding Quiescence, I was awestruck by its commanding presence and it's beauty. Casey Krawczyk's self portrait, 70 inches high and perched on a pew, combines a background straight out of the 19th century with a figure firmly anchored in the 21st.

Here is a detail of the painting which is in oil on linen.


This shot offers a mirror image of her Surrounded by Forever, a painting grounded in the 19th century tradition. That's me hard at work with my Nikon.

Here is a detail from Surrounded by Forever.

The same theme was employed by the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais in the mid-19th century and by a contemporary photographer, Gregory Crewdson, in the 21st.. Just below is Millais's Ophelia and below that Crewdson's Untitled (Ophelia).



Back to Casey Krawczyk. This is her River. She completed the three paintings in the show five to seven years ago, she said. After that she turned to landscapes for a number of years.

"I realized the figure is my love and I am currently working on an new series of paintings involving the figure."

Casey Krawczyk earned a masters in fine arts from the New York Academy of Art in 2004. The next year she started teaching art at Western State College of Colorado. She was an assistant professor .

"I was about to gain tenure when I decided to leave my job so I could be a stay-at-home mommy and eventually pursue full-time painting when my girls are older" she said in an email. "My husband, Eric, a mountain man at heart, took a job here so I could follow both dreams. Now that is love! I did, however teach 2 workshops at IS183 last summer and I look forward to offering more courses in the future."

She now lives within walking distance of the gallery.

 Below is the artist and her daughters Meadow, in the carrier, and Willow. And below that is Willow's contribution to the show.


Gallery owner Phil Pryjma, pictured below with Karen Dolmanisth, calls Krawczy "the real deal." Her two  larger paintings are in the $19,500 to $24,000 range.


Other work I liked at St. Francis included the painting above (a detail is shown below) of a painting by Rick Costello, who is a fixture in the local art scene. His work is painstaking because it is astrologically correct, Costello says. In other words, he doesn't just splatter paint to create the stars, he tries to put them in their proper place in the universe.


Here's Microcosm/Macrocosm Space by Karen Dolmanisth, who is pointing to a section of her compelling drawing.

Here's how Phil Pryjma has turned the old church into an art gallery. He opened it last year.

Another artist whose work I liked a lot is Robert Rosegarten. Here are two of his pieces.


A jaunty Jack Benny by the late Mia Le Comte greets visitors to gallery on Route 102.

Against a shipping container in the parking lot is this massive driftwood sculpture in which I see all sorts of human figures although I don't know if it is meant to be figurative. The artist prefers to remain anonymous.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I will have a large print - about 10 feet x 7 feet - at St. Francis as part of its September show.)






May 14, 2014

Beauty and the Beast, Part 1


Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

In my last post I showed you some photos and computer-generated photos of Laura. Today I wanted to show you some of her friend Hannah. Over a period of six months I took hundreds of pictures of them - which lead to a solo show of the paintings at Worcester Technical Institute in 2001. I have recently been scanning shots from the past into my computer. At the top is one of my favorites, Study in Orange.


This one I altered in the computer to make it come out clearly in huge blowups. I went up to 120 inches in height and Hannah's features held.



This is a shot of Hannah with Laura. When I ran into them - I think it was in 2000 - they were teenagers. Seeing the photo of Hannah above with her cheeks red with the cold reminded me of a winter painting I had done of her - below.


Here Laura and Hannah are holding hands with my granddaughter Riley on Rattlesnake Mountain Road in Stockbridge. Below is a photo of them both in the reeds along this road. These three paintings were displayed in the lobby of the WPI library while there were another dozen along a 100-foot wall upstairs. For the catalog for that show I interviewed myself. Parts of that historic moment in the American arts appears in Part Two of this post (below).


Beauty and the Beast, Part 2


It's My Funeral Isn't It?

This is me interviewing myself from the catalog for my 2001 solo show at Worcester Technical Institute.

Q. What do you do with yourself now that you’re retired?

A. What I do is paint.

Q. Sounds like a great hobby.

A. That’s what everyone says. But it isn’t a hobby. It’s my career, my so-called career...

Q. How does your wife react to you being home?

A. “Everything’s fine,” she tells her friends. “I keep him in the cellar.” That’s where I paint...

Q. What did you do before you were liberated?

A. I was the associate editor of The Berkshire Eagle, the newspaper in Pittsfield, Mass. I worked with reporters to develop stories, edited the main stories every night, laid out the front page and split page and was responsible for putting the paper to bed. Sometimes I still have deadline nightmares.

Q. What do you paint?
A. People mostly. Seeing the faces starting to emerge on the canvas is a kind of alchemy, a mystic experience.

Q. Do you have other subjects?

A. Sure. I’ve done a series on the abandoned orchard in the woods across from my house where these old beaten-down trees still cling to life. Not all my work is


realistic. Sometimes I explore abstraction. While I’ve been working on the Hannah and Laura paintings, I’ve also done some that are totally different, using spray paint, layers of canvas, words from Ed Ochester’s poetry. Someday I hope to be good enough to paint the amazing colors and patterns that play across my eyelids when they’re shut.

Q. Why paint so large?

A. My first love in art _ and it’s a continuing love _ was abstract expressionism with its boldness and freshness and emotion. And these were big paintings. When I started painting big just felt right. I’ve done paintings that are eight and nine feet wide. But it’s a little like building a boat in your basement and then discovering it won’t fit through the door. These days I’m confining myself to work that will fit in my van.

Q. When did you start painting?

A. When I was 60. I just turned 66. Art had been a passion for years _ other people’s art _ and then lightning struck and I was painting too.

Q. How’d you hook up with Laura and Hannah?

A. I was eating lunch in a Pittsfield restaurant last December when they came in with Hannah’s youngest sister and brother in tow and sat down. They all seemed to be having a wonderful time. I couldn't take my eyes off the older girls. They looked great, had these wonderful sort of neo-hippie clothes, nose rings, dreadlocks - and personality shown through. I had to gather up my courage to go over and talk to them. I gave them my number. They said they would call. Fortunately they dialed me, not 911.

Q. What are you trying to explore in your work?

A. Basically, life and death. The grace to embrace one and to face the other.

Q. That sounds a little grandiose.

A. It does doesn’t it? But that’s the way I think of it.

Q. Are you a Romantic?

A. Sometimes I live in a realm of dreams.

Q. How do you get life and death out of what you’re doing?

A. The Family Album series I did in 1999 would give you an idea of what I’m talking about. In a dozen paintings I tried to explore aspects of my parents’ lives and untimely deaths. They had died 33 years earlier, but working on the paintings was almost like being with them again. It was a transporting experience.

Q. I can see that. But how do these young women fit in?

A. Here they are, embarking on their adult lives, full of hope and enthusiasm, determined to help others. I’m embarking on a new life too. But at my age you know you’re working within an abbreviated time frame. You don’t forget that for long because you go to a lot more funerals than you used to. So the Laura and Hannah paintings are all about life.

Q. Who are your favorite painters?

A. Right now Xenia Hausner tops my list. But it keeps changing. Long-time favorites are Clyfford Still, Jackson Pollack, Joan Snyder, Chuck Close, John Singer Sargent, Cy Twembly, Mark Milloff, Jenny Saville and Odd Nerdrum. And except for Sargent, that’s leaving out anyone who painted before the 20th century.

Q. What is your greatest achievement?

A. I think it’s yet to come.

Q. What is your most treasured possession?

A. A 4 by 8-foot painting by Ray Librizzi, an outsider artist and friend. He did it when he was 85 on his hands and knees in his attic. It must have been 110 degrees up there. But he loved heat. It’s a wild painting about heaven and hell. He died recently at 93.

Q. How would you like to die?

A. With as few regrets as possible.





May 8, 2014


Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

This is a computer manipulated photo I've been working on the last few days. It started out as the photo of Laura below. She was standing in front of one of my paintings. While I can't claim that I put her on the map, it is fair to say I put a map on her. The piece not only involved altering the colors but redrawing her mouth on the computer, among other things.

The photo of Laura was taken in the late 1990s when I took about 600 shots of her and her friend Hannah over a period of six months in preparation for a series of about a dozen paintings I did of them. They paintings were shown at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 2001. Working with these girls was one of the best experiences of my painting life. The ended up along a 100-foot wall at WPI due to the effort of my friend George Malloy and the fact that the curator, Rodney Obien, really liked them. One hangs in his new office at the University of New Hampshire and another in his home.



Here are two more photos I made from the original.

And below is one of the large paintings I did of the two teenagers - I think they were about 16 at the time. I ran across the girls at Juice n' Java on Elm Street and liked their neo-hippie style of dress and the way they included Hannah's young brother, who they brought to lunch, in their conversations. I worked up my nerve and asked them to model for me.

When I got home I told my wife they were going to call me if they decided to do it.

"After they talk to their mothers," Babbie joked, based on their age and the myth of the dirty old man, "the only call that's going to be made is to 911."




May 1, 2014

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

This billboard - if that's what it is - climbs about eight stories up the side of a Manhattan building. But what is it advertising? And why is the woman's back to you and how come the upper part of her body just dissolve?

Here's another giant on the job. Look at his size in comparison to the cars and the building. I took these shots a couple years ago and came across them last night in my Aperture browser. I couldn't remember taking them and couldn't figure out what was going on. But when I got to the one below, the mystery was solved.









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