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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

June 30, 2009

Runway 4, my second painting of June, is essentially finished now. I'll darken her eyes a little to deepen them and then I'll call it done. To see the painting's evolution, you can look at my June 20 and June 18 posts.

Yesterday I started sketching in Runway 5. No horse this time.

Today is my 74th birthday.

"What time were you born?" Babbie asked me, as she does every year.

I don't know.

So the celebration won't be precise. We're having a family party.

I made up a pot of chicken jambalaya so we can celebrate cajun style. Man I love that dish. Also, we'll have key lime pie. I made the crust this evening. It's in the ice box waiting to be rolled out this afternoon. Babbie will make the filling.

Also, I bought some chablis. Remember when chablis was the big thing in white wine? If you do, you aren't a kid anymore either.

This shot - no, not the one of the horse - is the last one taken when I was still 73: A self portrait of the old man who posts Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man.



June 28, 2009

I've been searching through the boxes of Scarlet Letter paintings in my studio looking for hearts, which I had incorporated into the series. I have a potential customer.

I found more than a dozen mixed in with the scarlet A's. Most of the hearts were paintings. But this bit of sculpture is one I always got a kick out of. The wooden heart has a model caboose caught in its web of copper wire. I painted the car with graffiti, including "FUCK YOU." The lettering kept this one out of a Valentine's Day show a few years ago.

The f-word is under the window, obscured in this shot by one of the wires.

I can no longer remember the "train" of thought that allowed me to connect a trapped caboose to the Scarlet Series, which involved about 140 paintings. Here are three of the hearts. The caboose is on the right.

Here is another of the sculptural pieces. The hands, which I formed over a frame of aluminum wire, came out well. And the fingers, thumbs and heels of the hands form a heart. I'm not a tequila drinker. But I've always thought the Jose Cuervo boxes had amazing graphics. So I got a box from Liquors Inc. and incorporated it in the painting.





June 26, 2009

My birthday's coming up in a couple days. So if you're wondering what you might get me, here's a hint. It's this shirt from Paul Smith.

It costs 285 pounds. I sent my granddaughter Riley an email yesterday asking if she could convert that to American money. She says that's $463.41, if I recall her answer.

Now that's a little more than I would spend for a shirt. But I don't think it's too much to ask you, gentle reader, to plunk down for my 74th birthday. Besides, then you'd have the pleasure of making fun of me when I wore it.




June 24, 2009

It turned stormy suddenly on Candlewood Lake in Connecticut Monday but Karl pressed on because Babbie had been looking forward to seeing her grandfather's summer place so much.

(That's Karl and me in his boat. His wife Darol, who is Babbie's niece, took the shot. We had a great time with them.)

It was sunny when we pulled out of the launch area. But dark clouds rolled in, the wind picked up and it started raining. We saw a small sailboat go over and get a tow from a motorboat. Near a small island we came across a yellow sailboat upside down in the water with the centerboard standing straight up.

No one was on the island and no one was around the boat. Hope whoever was sailing it got to shore.

For years Babbie had wanted to go out on the lake to see the summer place where she had so many good times as a girl.

The house looked good. It had been dolled up a lot since it was sold about 50 years ago. Lots of glass had been added on the lakeside.

"I liked it better the way it was," she said.

When I was a kid, I used to hitchhike up to the lake from Tarrytown to see her there.

"I've got a gun in my pocket," one driver who picked me up told me.

And he had his hand in his jacket pocket and said he'd plug me if I made a false move.

I didn't make any moves, false or otherwise, for the duration of the ride. He looked like a timid guy. And I don't know if he really had a gun. I can't remember what we talked about.

A couple summer's later I quit college and bought an old MG and I'd drive up there on my own.

One day her grandfather, Justin Clary, saw me come down his steep drive in that red sports car.

"Young fool," he said.

He had me pegged pretty well. 


June 22, 2009

DRIVE GIRLS DRIVE. This 1992 shot is not Joel Librizzi's best photo for The Berkshire Eagle but it was one of the favorites of Grier Horner, a fellow Eagle staffer. They had been good friends for 44 years. Joel always had a way with children, both personally and as a photographer, as this shot attests so well.

By Leslie Harrison, guest blogger

Joel is gone but at least part of the last few days feels like a parting gift.

I worked for the paper for almost a decade. It is weird, but people who have not been journalists don't get just how we feel about each other. I suspect soldiers and cops and firefighters feel the way we feel. The newsroom is like no other place I've ever been. Full of smart, cynical, idealistic, funny, passionate people. People who fight over leads and copy-edit changes. People who struggle for the perfect headline. People who will literally hold up throwing the switch on the behemoth in the basement so you can get them THE photo instead of just A photo. Journalists care. A lot. We cared about what the city council was doing, who won the election, who DRTed in a wreck. We cared about the schools and the cops and the firefighters. So we cared on a local level, in our communities, but every single one of us cared terribly about the institution of a free press. We believed in what a free press means to this country. We filed FOA requests (Freedom of Information). We asked tough questions, took the hard photos, printed things that upset people, tried, every hour of every day, to do the right thing, the best thing.

The closest thing I can point to is old episodes of the West Wing. That was us. A family. We fought, laughed, drank, danced, ate, slept, breathed together. Glenn Novak has my undying respect for his headlines on the wire desk (my favorite? Scientists discover smallish mammoths). Judy and Becky for copyediting and proofreading with uncanny accuracy in the middle of the nightly chaos. Grier for a million reasons, but because he is a fine writer, a brilliant editor, and the man who nightly walked the line between what the owners wanted (us to hit deadline) and what the newsroom wanted (five more minutes. maybe ten). All of them because Joel was a prickly, solitary, anxious, and eccentric and every single person who worked with him for any length of time loved him as much for his weirdnesses as in spite of them. We were all weird. None of us minded.

It is an amazing thing to work as a journalist in a community for awhile. I knew every mayor, every police chief, every fire chief, and every coach (I shot a lot of sports).

I left the paper under difficult circumstances. I did what I needed to do, what I believed to be right, but my leaving caused bad feelings. It was 14 years ago, and some of the people I left behind I have not seen since. Almost all of us (Tony, what are you still doing there?) have left the paper, and most have left the business.

Thursday night, at the calling hours for Joel, I saw a lot of those people again. Hugs were exchanged. Four of his fellow photographers showed up. We caught up, exchanged email addresses, phone numbers. The Mayor for Life was there. The Sheriff. Members of the city council. Kids that Joel mentored. His kids.

And after the calling hours, a bunch of us went to an old local restaurant and ate delicious Italian food and toasted Joel. Then Friday, we buried him, ate antipasti, laughed, caught up some more.

It felt like coming home.

Leslie Harrison, a former Eagle photographer, is the author of "Displacement," a book of poetry just published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and the winner of the Bakeless Prize. This originally appeared in her blog, Always Winter.


June 20, 2009

Now that her head's on straight, I've given her a face. Behind her is a horse of a different color. I wanted it to take on a mythic look. (See the June 18 post to compare.) This is getting close  to being finished.

P.S. The dress was designed by Gareth Pugh, a brilliant young Brit.



June 18, 2009

Here's the painting I'm working on now - Runway #4. I've been having a terrible time with her head.

It was cocked too far to the left and had been bothering me for a couple days. It looked unnatural. So I painting her head at a lesser angle. I put the eyes in for the third time, gouging them into the thickening paint. She still looked strange. So I painted a new head. And then another one. Then I modified the tilt on that one.

Now I think the tilt's okay so I'll start grappling with the eyes and nose again. I don't have to worry about her mouth because it's covered by the high turtle neck. I'll show you a shot when it's finished.

After I thought I was pretty much finished with the horse, I turned his mane and tail into flames. Looked weird so I covered the whole horse in a coat of bluish black.

That makes him look like one of those plywood silhouettes you can buy at farm stands. That's not what I'm after so I have to come up with some cool treatment of the horse.

P.S. Did you notice how neatly I've arranged my cups of acrylic paint on my work table? It's made life easier.




June 16, 2009

Yesterday morning Joel Librizzi, the retired Eagle photographer, died. We had been good friends for 44 years. I had visited him Thursday in his apartment. He was so weak I had to strain to hear him.

From the way he looked and from what his daughter Tara told me, I didn't think he had long to live. So I said goodbye to Joel, the best I could, and I'm glad I had the chance to do that.

The shot above is mine. It is the reflection of clouds and mountains in Cheshire Reservoir. I took it in the morning prior to learning he had died. Since he had a deep spiritual and aesthetic connection with nature, I think it's appropriate.

I wish I could post a couple of Joel's shots as a tribute. I can't because I don't have access to them.

But here's a description of two that Leslie Harrison, a photographer who had worked with Joel for years, put in her blog recently. Reading her words brought both shots flashing to mind. Here's what she said:

"One of the most famous images he made in a long career was of a line of geese flying South above the hills and the line of geese exactly mimics the line of the hills below ...Beautiful and really an extraordinary moment - both in time and of seeing, which was his art.

"I have only one print of Joel's," she continued. "It is the courtyard of a local hotel in fall. Black and white, shot from a bit above, it shows the grid of slight trees and the carpet of leaves and in the absolutely right spot a man reaching out with his rake to gather a few.

"There is nothing in the image but trees, leaves, man and rake. But it was taken in the heart of the city near a parking garage in a busy hotel courtyard and he managed the perfect moment and perfect angle to exclude all but the heart of the matter.

"At his best," Leslie wrote, "Joel had one of the finest eyes in the history of photography."

Jack Dew of The Berkshire Eagle wrote a fine obituary about Joel in today's paper. I'll be a pall bearer at his funeral Friday.



June 14, 2009

This is "The Colony Room" painted by Michael Andrews in 1962, commemorating Muriel Belcher's bar in London, famous because of the host of artists and writers she attracted.

Under the headline "Den Mother to the Louche and Famous," The New York Times printed the painting last Sunday to illustrate an article about Muriel, her bar and its habitues.

Of these the most famous were the painters Francis Bacon, now the subject of a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and Lucian Freud, two of the giants of postwar art.

From the right, in Andrews' painting, you have Bacon in dark clothing, then Muriel Belcher. Next to her is Lucian Freud and to him Bruce Bernard, a legendary picture editor.

Then comes Henrietta Moraes, who Bacon painted at least 16 times and who Freud painted three times. Bacon was said to be enthralled by her mercurial character.

And Freud had an affair with her.

That's her in a painting by Freud at the left. A less flattering Bacon portrait is at the right. From the huge difference in the way they paint the same subject, I think you can tell a great deal about the men.

By the way, Moraes in the 1960s became a cat burglar, a gig that landed her in prison.

Bacon and Freud were not only great painters, they were great friends, even though Bacon was a "carousing painter of a nightmare world" and gay while Freud, who is still alive at 86, was reserved and straight. That quote about Bacon comes from Ben Hoyle, a London Times art reporter.

The Freud portrait of Bacon, at the right, sold at auction last year for $9.4 million. I don't know the sale history of Bacon's portrait of the younger artist, at the left.

Hoyle in TIMESONLINE wrote a year ago that 16 years after Bacon's death "the pair have conquered the global art world."

Last year Bacon's Triptych 1975 sold for $86.3 million. And Freud's Benefits Supervisor Sleeping sold for $33.6 million. At auction, only Rothko, Bacon and Andy Warhol have fetched more.

Below is Triptych 1975 and below that is Benefits Supervison Sleeping.





June 12, 2009

These pallets along the bike trail in Lanesboro look like some sort of modern pueblo to me as I walked along the trail this week.

Walking the former rail line, the first section of which runs through a swamp, I saw a fox, two snapping turtles laying eggs, and ran across a man who had just seen two bald eagles.

I kept looking for them but couldn't find them. I don't have a telephoto lens so I probably couldn't have gotten anything. Bald eagles are flourishing in the Berkshires, where they appeared to be extinct, thanks to a restoration project by the state over at the Quabin Reservoir.

Below is a shot of life and death in the wetland.




June 10, 2009

This is Runway 4.  The outfits were designed by Hermes. Not the messenger of the Greek gods but the Paris fashion house.  The designer appears to have had Amelia Earhart in mind.

The painting is 72"x48", acrylic on canvas and I finished it last week.

Now it's on to Runway 4.


June 8, 2009

Fashion designers are scrambling to get their work represented in my Runway series of paintings.

So far I've been pretty picky. Just being a big name doesn't do it. There has to be an edginess, a scare factor. Maybe an historic connection as in Alexander McQueen's reference to armour, ala Joan of Arc, in Runway 3 on May 28. And Hermes nod to Emilia Earhart in Runway 3 on June 2.

So let me introduce some work by the man who calls England's latest enfant terrible - Gareth Pugh.

His dresses here, along with the way the models are made up, put him high on my scare-factor meter.

I think one of my next paintings will use his work.

"The sonorous horror horns that announced the presentation suggested something wicked this way comes," said in a review of a recent Pugh show.

"Pugh mined the curious mother lode - Joan Crawford meets Predator - that he's established as his design signature," continued.

I sensed a Joan Crawford look in my main model of Runway 1 on April 28.

So Gareth, you make the cut. May your success increase. Here he is taking his bow as the last model heads off the catwalk.



June 4, 2009

The low afternoon sun cast a neon stripe on the  stairway wall off the kitchen Monday. I grabbed the camera and this is what I got.


June 2, 2009

Here's a leap : Today I'm jumping from Paul Matthew's dream studio (see May 30) to mine, which is something of a nightmare.

My wife maintains it is a fire hazard. I chose not to think so, although it is a little cluttered. The other day I was backing away from a painting I was working on and I tripped over something on the floor. It's not the first time. I knocked some stuff over but no bones were broken.

The painting I'm working on is the third in my Runway series. (See my May 28 post for Number 2.) The current piece is taken from the Hermes collection. It must have been inspired by Amelia Earhart. She was the fashionable aviatrix who set many women's records in the early days of flight. Her plane disappeared in the Pacific when she was trying to become the first woman to fly around the world.

I had planned to have Amelia's first aircraft, a small yellow biplane with an open cockpit, in the background of this painting. She named it "Canary." I didn't leave enough room. So I painted one of the jackets yellow in honor of the plane.

It should be finished in a day or two.

I use the chair as a scaffold when I work on the upper reaches of paintings. I haven't managed to fall off it yet.



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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