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Portrait of the Artist as an Old MaN


June 29, 2012

Photos (Except the One Below, by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Francis Bacon and I have one thing in common: our studios are a mess. Mine's above and his is below. That's probably the only point of similarity.

Bacon was a fantastic artist. I'm still waiting to be discovered. Tomorrow will be my 77th birthday. The odds don't look good. I think Bacon's studio has been replicated and is on view. Knock on my door and you're welcome to take a look at mine.

I am comfortable in my studio, except when I occasionally trip on something and fall. I like being surrounded by things I've made, especially by all the faces and figures.

Below is Linda in the shadows with the top of one of my Runway paintings in the foreground.



This is another Runway painting. Below is a photo of my mother mounted on a thin panel that I glued to a stretcher last night. Beyond that is a recent painting of my 12-year-old granddaughter.

We cranked up the dehumidified a week ago. The studio's in the basement and I don't want the paintings to mildew.

Part Two: Battery Blues

Yesterday was a bad car day. I climbed in the van at 8:15 to drive to an 8:30 appointment. I turned the key. Nothing happened. The battery was as dead as if it had been 50 below. I called a cab and got where I was going on time, which surprised me. Back home, I called AAA. They wanted my membership number. I gave them my wife's. They wanted to know if she would be there when the truck came. No. She's up with the twins. You can't use her card unless she's present. So over the phone I bought one of my own for $66.

An AAA guy arrived and got the van going. I drove over to Amherst to have a late lunch with George. He was a half hour late because he had to fix a flat before driving to Judie's from Shirley. We had a good eating, drinking some beer, talking and trying to remember the names of people we were talking about.

When I went to the underground parking garage to get the car, guess what? It wouldn't start.

My cell had gone dead too. So I went back to Judie's and they called AAA for me. For about an hour I sat at the bar. I didn't drink but I ate some hummus and black beans. The bartender was young and good looking and she doesn't like cold climates. As time passed the place started getting busy. She mixed drinks fast. I liked watching her make them.

When the AAA guy finally arrived, he tested my battery and my charging system. The battery was the problem. He put a new one in. And I drove home.

With two AAA rescues in one day, my new card paid for itself.

Now all I hope is that the van starts in the morning.


June 27, 2012

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved


This is another drive-by shooting. I had just turned into First Street from East when I saw this very lovely girl, with an impossibly short dress, walking with a nerdy looking boy. They were passing the Duncan Donuts and heading toward East. So I turned right on Fenn and right again on Fourth and headed up East in hopes of seeing them again.

There they were in front of Pittsfield High School, which was still in session then. I had already pulled my camera from the cup holder and fired off several shots from the Prius as I drove by. She was putting on lipstick. The long photo above was extracted from the shot below.

At first I wasn't going to use it because she was out of focus when I cropped her from the photo. But then I thought of the great portraits my friend Alan Hayes had gotten while standing on the sidewalk and firing at moving cars.

His powerful series, Portraits of American Dead, can be viewed here.






June 25, 2012


Photo by Grier Horner/

I used to lust after cars. I suffered from that symptom well into middle age. The most exotic car I had was a 1949 MG TC like the one above at the British car invasion of Lenox earlier this month. The steering was on the wrong side - the British side - which made it tough to pay tolls or pull out to pass.

Mine had been raced in Texas and the engine had been worked over so that it put out a lot more horse power than it was supposed to. The car was the only MG I ever drove that could really move.

It would drift beautifully through corners on smooth roads. But hit a rough patch on a curve and you were in trouble because of the ultra-stiff suspension. Because of that I spun out on a curve during an impromptu road race.

I bought it for $700 in the summer of 1958 when I was working in the mail room of an advertising agency in New York. That was the summer I got out of college.

Late that fall I quit the ad agency and got a job as a reporter in St. Albans, Vermont. The MG didn't have a heater and I couldn't afford to have one put in. On long trips to Providence to see Babbie, my feet would freeze. I'd have to get out periodically and stomp on the ground. Once my feet were so cold that I fell down when I climbed out.

This was my second MG. I had a TD when I quit college for a year but had to sell it when I went back.

The first time I drove that one to Candlewood Lake to see Babbie, who was at her grandfather's summer place, he said something we still laugh about.

Mr. Clary heard my car's exhaust rumbling as I came down the steep driveway.

"Young fool," he said, Babbie told me later.

That was a pretty accurate observation.




June 23, 2012

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Yesterday we tossed two more paintings, along with some other junk, into the big steel bin at the incinerator plant. Seeing it sprawled there in the debris made me feel a little badly for the black painting on top, and a little badly for me.

They were among some cardboard, scrap wood, the baseball glove I got in seventh grade when I wanted so badly to be a good baseball player but couldn't hit or field, an old Washington Irving football that before games I used to have my sister practice handoffs with me because I was afraid of fumbling, some bend badminton rackets and a lot of other junk.

Here's a photo of me at the computer thinking about the paintings I threw away yesterday along with the Lefty Grove baseball glove and the football.

So what I came up with was that I wish that as a painter things would go for me more the way they go for another Berkshire resident, Walton Ford. His work is so hot that people go on waiting lists with his gallery to buy one for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Every time he produces one of his tremendous paintings, it is already sold.

Every time I crank out one of my paintings, as tremendous as I usually think they are, it is a storage problem. There are no lines of buyers. There are no buyers who aren't in line. (Yoram Gil, my online dealer, says he's going to change all that for me. Time will tell.)

The last time I counted we had almost 500 paintings - most of them large - stored in the house. Babbie wants me to start getting rid of some


"It hurts to toss them in the trash," I tell her.

"But you know you have some paintings that aren't very good. Just throw those out."

Otherwise, she has said, what are the kids going to do with 500 paintings that you couldn't sell in your lifetime.

"Maybe I'll get hot like Walton next year, I tell her, and then we've been tossing thousands into the trash bin and the money has gone up in smoke."

That seems pretty far fetched, even to me, so I've been tossing a few.

It's just that this one looks so forlorn lying among the other castoffs waiting to be fed to the flames.

Well there's one consolation. The act of burning will help produce money. The painting will provide the heat that generates the steam that is used by the Crane factory near the incinerator plant. Crane makes all the paper that the United States uses to make its currency. Not a nicole's worth of anyone else's paper has gone into a dollar bill or a twenty or any other denomination since the Big Bang.

Now I have to, in all honesty, tell you that I spent the last three minutes trying to find out how to spell nicole. I know that's not the way. My spell checker tells me its wrong. So I go to my computer dictionary. N I C H O Ee I type in? No. N I C O L? No. N I C H O L E? No. N I K O L? No. N I C K L E ? No. And so it went. Until I tried N I C K E L. YES. But it doesn't look right.

I'm glad that you and I, gentle reader, can have these deep philosophical discussions about art and money.


June 21, 2012

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

How's this for adding some life to the back of the buildings on Main Street in North Adams. The heroically-scaled work is being painted by two young women from the Basque Country in Spain on the rear of the old Mohawk Theatre.

Marta Gil, 31, and Estibaliz Vera, 25, are the artists hard at work on this spirited four-story work scheduled for completion by June 28 in time for the Last Thursday art celebration. They are part of a Spanish mural collective. You can see some of the group's work on www.muralismopublico.com.

Their work lifted my spirits when I saw it Tuesday. They told me they are being supported by Gallery 51, a project of North Adams College of Liberal Arts and its special programs director, Jonathan Secor.

This is the first of four murals destined for the city this summer and fall by DownStreet Art. This one, like the others will have great visibility. It can be seen from the Route 2 highway and from the large parking lot serving Main Street.

Marta Gil stands back from the mural to check the section she is working on against the original design. Below, back on her scaffolding, she starts painting the face.


“DownStreet Art has always been a public art project aimed at revitalizing downtown North Adams,” Secor said on Gallery 51's website. "Up until now, our public art has all been done in private spaces. This year, we’re going to do public art in public spaces.”

In addition the effort this summer will include five "pop-up galleries" along the main drag. One of these will be the long entryway to the closed Mohawk Theatre, giving the public a chance to look at the shell of an art deco theater from the early 1900s. The city is working to bring the theater back to life.

Here Estibaliz Vera works on the mural from the cage of a lift that she operates.

The mural in process now will play a major role in next week's Last Thursday. And murals by other artists are scheduled to be finished by the Last Thursday in July, August and September. The other artists are Maya Hayuk, Mike Lewis and Melissa Lillie.

The curatorial committee that picks artists for the murals and galleries is composed of representatives of MASS MoCA, The Clark, Mount Holyoke Museum, Williams College Museum of Art, the Ferrin Gallery and MCLA Gallery 51.


Joining DownStreet Art for the fifth year, Kidspace at MASS MoCA has commissioned artist Victoria Palermo to create art on the bus stop in the center of Main Street.



June 19, 2012



Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Here are four variations on a new picture of my mother that I've been working on. It may be one of those that goes in my upcoming show, Remembrances of Things Past, at Berkshire Community College's downtown gallery. It will be up for August and September.

Her face is amethyst because that was her favorite color and she looks very happy in this shot which I adapted from my family photo album.

Below is my photo of that photo:

From this shot you can see that her eye on the right side of the picture had not photographed with much definition. So I drew a new eye using the computer. It would be much easier doing it by hand, but for this project I'm sticking with the computer. I think this picture was taken in Cuba when she was about 20.


This pair is identical except for the YES sign on the right above. Another option would be to put the YES on the left instead of the blurry word in orange. I got these boarders and a lot more from Zero 7's very cool In the Waiting Line. I first saw the video on my friend Derek Gentile's page on facebook.


I've failed to keep to my every-other-day posting schedule lately. I apologize if you've turned to the blog and not found something fresh. So here, to salve the wound, is a picture I've just taken of myself on Photo Booth.

How's that for a reward?





June 13, 2012

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

This is a painting of my 12-year-old granddaughte , running. It is 74" high, oil on canvas and it essentially done. I posted photos of this portrait in its early stages on May 22. Below are detail shots. 

The 14 paintings before this one had all been in my Runway Series. I'm glad I broke away from the series. The switch was refreshing - as is Riley. Of course it hadn't been all Runway and no play. I had been working on the computer-manipulated photos of my parents at the same time. The last time I posted one of the photos was May 4.

The photo work will be shown at Berkshire Community College's downtown gallery in August and September. More about that in the future.











June 11, 2012

Photo by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

The edge of this cloud glows intensely, illuminated by the sun. I often think of Joni Mitchell when I think about clouds because of her brilliant Both Sides Now.


I played her original recording yesterday. She sounded young and naive, despite the fact she could write these lyrics. So here's a version she sang 30 years later. She's no longer the little girl. Her voice has matured and she's much more soulful.

I can't get that one to work. So let's try this one from the Johnny Cash show. I don't know the year. Hell, this one doesn't work either. Maybe someone's sabotaging Joni.

Anyway, here are the lyrics.

Both Sides Now
by Joni Mitchell

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds * that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
I've looked at clouds from both sides now

From up and down, and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As ev'ry fairy tale comes real
I've looked at love that way

But now it's just another show
You leave 'em laughing when you go
And if you care, don't let them know
Don't give yourself away

I've looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It's love's illusions I recall
I really don't know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say "I love you" right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I've looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In living every day

I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all
I've looked at life from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all





June 9, 2012


Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

I went out with a friend for a drink Friday evening. We were at the bar in Spice where we talked, ate calamari - it was delicious - and where I had two glasses of chardonnay. 

After we said so long, I hiked down North Street to the Market Place and got iced coffee to go. It was about 7:15 and the light on the buildings on the east side of North Street - Pittsfield's main drag - was intense. The sun was low in the sky and the buildings across the street cast deep shadows.

So I pulled the camera out of my pocket and started taking pictures of this beautiful street which, as you can see, is under reconstruction.

At one time the shadow-casting buildings that you can't see in my photo were going to be torn down to make room for a large, suburban-style shopping mall. The powers knew it was only a matter of time before a mall would be built in one of the neighboring towns. And that would be that for the North Street business district.


In the first photo in this post, I'm looking south from Columbus Avenue. In the one above I'm looking North.

In two non-binding referendums, Pittsfield voters backed the project. But even then the developer was having a hard time landing the last of the three - or was it four - department stores he needed to make it viable. Time passed. A new mayor, Charles Smith, was elected. He was no fan of the downtown proposal. It wasn't built. Instead in 1988 the developer, Pyramid, erected it the adjoining town of Lanesboro. It has four department stores - Macy's, Penny's, Sear's and Target - but a growing number of its spaces are empty.

Charlie Smith had saved the street. I didn't think so at the time. Outgunned by the new mall, the downtown died, a death aided and abetted by GE closing its large plant here in 1987. After that the city lost about 20 percent  of its population.



Downtown also lost all three of its movie houses, including the one above, which became the Senior Center.

James Ruberto, who served as mayor from 2004 to 2011, made downtown revitalization his goal. It was a hard grind. But the downtown did come back. It now has the Barrington Stage, the spectacular Colonial performance space, the six-screen Beacon Cinema, all sorts of restaurants, a wine bar, shops and the crowds drawn by Third Thursdays.

And in Dan Bianchi I think Pittsfield has another good mayor.

So there you have today's rant.



June 7, 2012

Photo by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Here's a cool way to wear your MASS MoCA pass devised by my 12-year-old granddaughter on a recent tour of that contemporary art museum - also very cool - in North Adams.




June 5, 2012

Photos by Grier Horner

I'm  a big fan of Jackie Kearns' and her solo show at BCC's downtown gallery at the Scelsi Intermodal Transit Center reinforced my affection for her work. Her smallish self portrait above is terrific. I love its looseness and the way it conveys depths of feeling you don't see in casual conversations with this bubbly young artist.

This exhibit opened as part of June's First Friday. From the large number of artists showing and the number of people making the rounds of the 25 shops and galleries participating, it looks like First Fridays will be a fixture on the local art scene. It's organizers are Mary McGinnis and Leo Mazzeo.

Back to Jackie Kearns. Most of her work in this show, Apartment, is what she sees on the streets of North Adams, where she lives these days. Her paintings of buildings have an airy freshness and her decision to do some of them on curtains from Country Curtains in Stockbridge reinforces that.

One thing about curtain paintings, she said, is that you can throw them in the washing machine if they get dirty.  The medium here is thinned oil paint.

“I live and work in a one-bedroom apartment," Kearns said. She moved to North Adams seeking solitude to concentrate on her painting. "What I didn't realize was how much of an impact this particular setting would have on my body of work.”

Her show, curated by BCC Art Prof. Lisa Griffith, will be at the gallery through June.


She's also been painting furniture as you can see above. Below is a shot of Ms. Kearns at the opening.


Another local artist I hold in high regard is Michael Rousseau, whose work is being shown at Shawn's Barber Shop. The big cats above and the portrait below are his.


This was my favorite photo of the night. It was taken by Sienna Wildfield, who has a fine solo show at the Treehouse, 305 North Street. This is the 12th venue for the travelling Wildfield show and its first in the Berkshires. She is the creator of HilltownFamilies.org, a grass roots communications network.


There is a lot of power in this tree reaching for the sky by Mario Caluori.

“Recently I have been interested in exploring how natural organic forms, specifically trees, manifest energy, movement, and, generally the dynamism of life itself, ” Caluori has said. His show is at Brenda & Company at Crawford Square.

Here's a nice painting by Richard Thomas Weber, who was among the flock of artists exhibiting at Crawford Square. Anne Pasko was showing there too. One of her works is shown below.


Bagels, Too hosted a show by five artists, including Susan Geller, above, and Susan Smith, below.


This small piece at Bagels, Too is by Colleen Quinn who often works on a large scale.

Sitting in the window of Circa Berkshires - the former Greylock Gardens space - is proprietor Rebecca Barnini's mother Tina. I think its opening was timed to take advantage of First Friday.



This is by no means a comprehensive survey of Friday evening's art walk. I only attended a fraction of the exhibits. I saw a lot of good stuff, but from what I've heard I also missed a lot, too.






June 3, 2012

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

The first question Liz Whitney Quisgard was asked last night at the Berkshire Museum, which has staged a major exhibit of her work, was about her beautiful necklace.

Joking that it draws more attention than her art, the 82-year-old artist said it was made in Afghanistan and cost $135, holding it up for the audience in the Ellen Crane Room to get a look at.

Then she walked over to one of her paintings, arms positioned theatrically in her orange cape, and said this:

"If I run out of ideas, I can just pin myself to the wall."



But she seems to be a long way from running out of ideas. She keeps producing labor-intensive pieces like the one above. Made of yarn it is needlepoint - a term she dislikes because it sounds like stuff her blue-haired auntie churned out instead of serious art.

Each of the 35 squares in the work took 60 to 65 hours to make, she said last night at the opening at the museum. At that rate it would take 262 eight-hour days to make.

I didn't ask her if that sounded accurate but it's obvious she put in an incredible amount of work on this piece, with its intricate patterns both within each square and overlaying the entire work. Lines and planes cross at 45 degree angles forming giant pyramids and a tilted checkerboard.

The artist was asked how she keeps turning out such difficult art.

"Sheer habit," Ms. Quisqard said. "To conceive of not doing it is impossible."

The audience loved her, and so did I. She was colorful in dress and personality, full of humor, steadfast in her "art-for-art's-sake" philosophy, self depreciating and generous in revealing how she approached and made her work.


Maria Mingalone, the museum's director of interpretation, and the curator for this show and many others there, is directly behind the woman in white.

"Thirty years ago I picked up everything and moved to New York," Ms. Quisgard said. It was a move she believed she needed to make if she was going to be more than a regional artist.

"I've had some success and a lot of rejection - a lot of what a more sensible person would call failure."

Thirty years ago she made another career decision. Finally realizing she wasn't going to live forever, she said she decided to pare away unneeded things from her life.

“I gave up on learning to fly, learning to speak Italian and learning to play the drums,” she said. At the same time she decided that her art was on the right course and she would stay on that path.



As large as it is, her work at the museum is dwarfed by a 47' by 140’ mural she did in Atlanta in 1990. She’s still so energetic that you can envision her up on the scaffolding applying the paint.


Of course, she did not wield the brushes on that job, which was given to a sign-painting firm. She said she has run across people who wonder how she can call it her own if she didn't do the actual painting.

"Does an architect lay bricks?" is her reply.



Ms. Quisgard said she gives curators a lot of leeway in how they assemble here pieces. She had drawn up diagrams to guide Maria Mingalone, the museum's curator in installing the exhibit.

"But our senior curator here," the artist said, grinning at Ms. Mingalone, "changed the whole thing around...

"I walked in and it looked marvelous."


Curator Maria Mingalone and another woman examine the intricate construction of Ms. Quisgard's work.

"This room needs work that commands the space," Ms. Mingalone said, making it obvious that she felt the new exhibit did just that in the large gallery.

In her talk Ms. Quisgard made it clear she is not a fan of work that tries to tell a story or that is "propaganda" for a point of view.

"My goal is to surprise and engage the mind by seducing the eye," she says in her artist's statement. "Toward that end, I rely on pattern. We all understand a row of triangles, a strip of squares, an arrangement of circles and swirls. No need to ask their meaning. They speak to us universally and with no apology."

Ms. Quisgard, who often gives her exhibits prosaic names like "patterns and color," said she was very pleased with the title "Kaleidoscope," which was dreamed up by Lesley Ann Beck, the museum's communications director.


Barbara Horner , left, and Judy Katz  are engaged in discussion at the show.



June 1, 2012

Photo by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, the sky is amazingly beautiful. I went through a period of a couple years where I couldn't stop shooting pictures of clouds. I've calmed down on clouds in the last year. I'm not sure that's a good sign.

Anyway, I got dozens of shots of this. The sunset was confined to a narrow strip between the mountains and the storm clouds. The picture was taken from the playing fields of Ponterril.




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