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

July 30, 2010

Part One

Paintings by Lucy MacGillis/Photos by Grier Horner

Lucy MacGillis's eighth annual show at the Hoadley Gallery in Lenox is, like the others, an big success artistically and financially.

When I visited on Tuesday, 18 of the paintings had been sold. That's a big number for any gallery anywhere. The exhibit ends August 3.

MacGillis, who is in her early 30s, is one of that rare breed of artist who makes a living through art.

"It is rewarding to support myself, and now my son as well,
with the paintings.

"I saw a lot of my colleagues going into frustrating
teaching jobs and the like, in order to pay the bills and they suffer
as artists. You need time to think things through and a lot of time to
produce a body of work. I live really simply and try to keep it that

Since graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, the Pittsfield native has lived and worked in Monte Castello di
Vibio in Umbria, Italy.

Terra Umbra, 37"x48", the painting at the top, is not immediately recognizable as a MacGillis because of its big-sky format and color choices.

"I do hope to paint more in this format because it is very expressive
but real at the same time," she told me in an email. "Also the sky is just so big around here."

Here are three that are immediately recognizable as MacGillis's:

The one in the center is the largest - 50"x60" - in the show and the most expensive - $15,000. The other two are relatively small.

In a highly complimentary Eagle review of last year's show, critic Keith Shaw was impressed that MacGillis's paintings raked in $35,000 in sales in the first weekend.

"Her paintings have the texture of a stucco wall, and their soft palette recalls weathered frescoes," Shaw said in that review. "In keeping with European tradition, she preserves the craft of image making. Her canvases are visually inviting, and frequently their simplicity of subject, palette, and composition generates pure beauty."

I include what he said then (he did not review this year's show) because I couldn't say it as well and because I agree.

The artist has no plans to return to the states soon.

"I moved here when I was 22, so really I began my adulthood here, have a
circle of friends etc., my life is here now and i always long to get
back to this light when I travel elsewhere."


July 30, 2010

Part Two

Lucy MacGillis has bought this old masonry house and is currently working to make it habitable. Part of it dates back to the early 1800s. That's the 1966 Fiat she drives.

Here's a shot she took that gives you an idea why she fell in love with the house.

And this is a painting from the exhibit that show's the interior of the house from what will be her studio.

And here's a shot of her son Vito in front of that same painting.

She is having plumbing installed. The house never had it. And she is lavishing a lot of her own labor on her casa. Using lime and earth pigments to paint the walls, she is applying layer after layer to turn the interior into one of her own paintings.

She wants spaces "that visually stimulate me."

"Therefore it is taking a long time to complete but I'm pleased with the results, and hey, its
my house so I can always repaint it for the next series of paintings..."

"Here is a pic I took of the town peeking out of
the thick fog that often rolls in during the winter...

"Everything I see inspires
me here. The compositions that I see in my rearview mirror even on
banal errands to the industrial zone, fascinate me. I am constantly
seeing colors that make me want to paint."

Vito, her son, is doing "great," she writes. "He is
four and says why - or perche - a whole lot."

MacGillis sees Monte Castello as an ideal place to bring him up.

"The old center has about 200 habitants. They all know me and Vito, and he knows his way through the alleys of the town to the bar where Giovanni knows to prepare him a peach juice...

"If he should drop his beloved dilapidated
bear Yellow, someone will find it and know its Vito's. I like raising him in this place, I
love that this medieval fortress is his hometown no matter where he ends up in his life."

P.S. MacGillis and Vito visited her parents, Ingrid and Don, long-time friends of ours, during the early stages of the show. Joining them were her brother Alec, a reporter for the Washington Post, and his family.




July 28, 2010

Paintings by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Here's a new photo of the painting I showed you in my last post. It gives a much more accurate idea of how the painting looks. I like this piece, part of my Salvage series. I call it Full Moon.

And I've included photos of two other paintings I did this week. I like them but I'm afraid they are too derivative of Jackson Pollack, one of my favorite painters.

Both are 4'x2' in acrylic on a panel. After the backgrounds were painted, the surface markings were made by a dipping a dowel into the paint and then flinging it a the panel with a lashing motion. A fast, free way to paint.

Because it is so spare in its use of paint, I think the one below might not be compared to Pollack. Maybe that's just wishful thinking. I like its simplicity.



July 26, 2010

Part One

Paintings by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

I've done two new paintings in the Salvage Series. This is Full Moon. I'll show you the other another time. Both are collages and measure 30" x 15". Both were completed yesterday.

Below are details taken from this painting. To see other Salvage pieces done this month you can look at my July 8 post.



July 26, 2010

Part Two

Photos By Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Saturday night Babbie and I went to the Beacon Cinema downtown. We sat in the third row and lost ourselves in Salt, Angelina Jolie's furiously paced spy thriller.

But this isn't a movie review. It's a sidewalk report. The sidewalks were full of people.

People going downtown at night is news. For years the downtown had been empty in the evening. There wasn't anything to do.

But the revitalization efforts waged by the Ruberto Administration are yielding fruit. Downtown has become an evening destination for many and the numbers will grow as the word of the success spreads.

The Beacon, a $23 million project with substantial government funding,opened in November. But it takes the late sunlight of a summer Saturday to make you fully aware of all the people. The Beacon has resuscitated the Park Square end of North since opening in November. Barrington Stage has done the same for the upper reaches. Ditto the Colonial Theatre on South Street.

Adding to the drawing power of these facilities are a slew of new restaurants and bars.

Some people still don't feel safe downtown at night, as two recent letters to The Eagle made clear. A visible police presence would help.

But even more important would be turning the street lights back on. To save electricity the city has dimmed the lights so low Pittsfield looks as sinister at night as Gotham City.

There is also safety in numbers. And as more and more people start heading downtown in the evening that will help.



July 24, 2010

Photos, unless otherwise noted, by Grier Horner

Ven Voisey of North Adams, the second artist to serve a residency at the Berkshire Museum, is the first to have a show in the building's new Rear Window gallery - if I may call it that.  It's real name is the Wider Window Gallery.

And it is no wider than the rear hallway and steel staircase in the back of the Pittsfield institution. This is the window, below, with one of the ideas Ven had considered installing.

Photo by Ven Voisey

In the top photo, the Talking Animal created by Voisey speaks to Stacey Gillis Weber, left, a museum trustee, and Bess Hochstein, cultural correspondent for Rural Intelligence.

"What's it saying," I asked.

"It's saying 'I love you," said Bess.

It was more talkative, she told Voisey, when they put a dime in it's slot that when they inserted a penny.

Photo by Ven Voisey

Do you remember this mounted lion's head in the Ellen Crane Room during the museum's Armed and Dangerous show?

Well Voisey, who spent much of his three-month residency there, did too and rigged up this mike to help collect sounds for his installation. He also collected them from a girl scout troop and other visitors, pitching a blue tent in the normally staid Crane Room to do it.


You can hear the sounds by picking up this phone. It still needs a little fine tuning. Instead of talking into it, you have to shout. But that's rather gratifying, if you can get over your parents' admonitions about no loud voices in the museum.


Voisey, center, stands by his photo of the lion. Too bad he didn't have access to the real McCoy. On the left is artist Melanie Melanowski and on the right is Tuguldur Yondonjamts, an artist from Mongolia. He just finished a three-week residency at Art Omi, home of the Fields Sculpture Park in Ghent, New York.

This is his light show flashing on the wall of the upper hall.

And here is Voisey's outstanding piece - a lifelike sculpture a la Duane Hanson. At's least that's what I thought for a second as I tramped down the stairs.

The woman, if I'm not mistaken, and I often am, is Brandon Graving, a fine artist from New Orleans, now living and working in North Adams. Voisey, too, is an artist hailing from another place - California. His show will be up through August 29. Bu the way they are looking at Voisey's folding chairs video on a bank of TVs under the first floor stairs.

To find the new gallery, go through the back door of the Crane Room, turn left into the Nancy Graves' exhibit and enter through that gallery's back door.

To get a more rounded feel for voiseys work, go to his fascinating web site. You can work your way around the site from this page, which I found an easier starting point than the home page. But then I'm an old man.

Another Berkshire media icon on the scene last night was Seth Rogovoy, editor-in-chief of Berkshire Living magazine and its culture critic. He also produces the magazines Berkshire Daily, a polished e-mail summary of local, national and world news and features.



July 22, 2010

Paintings by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

This is Number Four in the Hangman series. It was painted over a photograph that mounted to a panel 47" X 27". The paint is acrylic.

The photo was by the late William Tague, a black and white view capturing Onota and Pontoosuc lakes from Mount Greylock, where he lived.

When I told him how big I wanted it, Bill told me he was afraid that at that size the image would lose its clarity.

I told him to go ahead anyway, thinking it would hold up. Bill was right. So it was a poor copy of a great photo. We'd had it a long time and hadn't hung it in years. I felt disrespectful painting over it. Here are two detail shots.




July 20, 2010

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Thursday we went to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod. Here four guys collectively packing about a ton of muscle walk down  Commercial Street.

Babbie in her white cap was in heaven last week because all three kids and both grandchildren were staying with us at a house in Wellfleet.

This is our daughter Shannon putting on her sunglasses. Her daughter Riley is on the left.

You couldn't get me to the top of this church steeple for $1 million. The last time I was on our roof I froze and sat there for a long time embracing the chimney before conjuring up enough courage to walk down the roof to the ladder.

Another tall tower, this is the 252-foot tall Pilgrim Monument in a shot the Chamber of Commerce would deep six.


A couple motorcycle riders paused to discuss what's next and then roared off.

If you look carefully you can see a kite surfer speeding along the breakwater in Wellfleet. He's directly under the green and white sail and below the top rail of the fence. I took the shot from an outdoor table at a restaurant where Michael and I were having a drink on Thursday evening before picking up seafood takeout for our crew.


July 18, 2010

Paintings by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Today it's summer reruns. These are paintings I've shown on the blog - but not recently.

At the top is one of Anita which has been hanging in a Park Square office for quite a while. Then comes one of Babbie and Riley. It was done about six years ago.

Below I'm standing with one of my paintings in the Jeanne d'Arc series. And below that is a large painting that has since been painted over, not because I didn't like it but because it didn't seem to connect to my work.

Above is a painting of Hannah that was on loan to the Brien Center for several years. Below is a painting from my Dresden series, which was sold.

And bringing up the rear is this one from the Scarlet Letter series. One of the later paintings in that group of 140 paintings, it was abstract unlike most of the others. Below is another of the series, one of my favorites. It hangs in a house in California.

I hope to get around again to sculpture. But my storage problems are severe and sculpture only compounds them.



July 16, 2010

Chuck Close, who painted this self portrait back in the 1960s, is faceblind. I just heard him talk about that the other day. I think it was on NPR.

When I heard him say it, a blinder was removed. This morning I looked it up on the internet.

Finally I knew for the first time that my inability to recognize people has a name -prosopagnosia or faceblindness- and that the condition is under study at places like Harvard.

I don't know how long I've had this condition but I became acutely aware of it about 50 years ago when I started out as a reporter.

I would interview someone for an hour but if I ran into them a few days later, I had no idea who they were.

Once it happened with a girl I had been romantically entangled with for an evening. She waved to me from across the street the next day, but I just kept walking. I didn't know who she was.

All this is very embarrassing. I hate to think how many people I have snubbed in the same way. I don't mean people I've had romantic entanglements with - that would be a very small cohort - but people in general.

People who look like total strangers are always surprising me by extending a warm greeting. I talk to them in a fog, hoping to pick up a clue to their identity through what they say.

When I can't we part and I have no idea who I've talked to. In the last year or so I've gotten better at simply telling someone I have "facial dyslexia" - a term I manufactured - and can't place them . (Click that link and it will bring you to an April 27 post that was very embarrassing for me.)

They'll tell me. But the next time I see them, the same thing happens.

I think it often takes a dozen meetings or more for me to recognize people. Some people with this condition can't even recognize members of their own families, or in extreme cases, themselves.

In my limited research today, I came across a website sponsored by the Prosopagnosia Research Centers at Harvard University and University College London.

They want people like me to fill out a form and contact them. I did. I hope they contact me. I'm dying to talk with them.

Here's Close, long one of my favorite artists, doing a self portrait in his current mode in which he breaks down a painting into hundreds of small abstract paintings.

When you see it from a couple feet away, it doesn't make any sense. But as you back away, it suddenly pops into focus as a face.

“Everything in my work is determined by my learning disabilities…. So I am sure I was driven to painting portraits by being Face Blind," he said recently.

I do a lot of portraits, too. But I think I was drawn to portraiture through Close, rather than faceblindness.



July 14, 2010

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Sometimes you  can chart the turning of your personal tide, of a generational shift. It can scare you a little and fill you with pride at the same time.

I used to be a lifeguard at Kingsland Point, a beech on the Hudson River. I worked there summers when I was in college. 

So later when my kids were at the beach, I would stand watch at the water's edge, or even go in with them.

And that has been true with my granddaughter Riley from the time she's been a little girl. Once years ago a wave knocked her over and I grabbed her and pulled her to her feet. The other day she returned the favor.

We were at the Head of the Meadow Beach. She wanted in the worst way to go swimming even though the water was cold, the waves pretty big and

the bottom strewn with stones. Only a few people were in the water.

I waded in a little way with her to lend moral support. Waves were lapping up over my knees and  then one broke that tugged at me hard both coming in and going out. I lost my footing and was trying to regain it when I became disoriented.

Riley, 10 and very athletic,

grabbed my arms and started pulling.

"Grier are you all right?" she asked several times as she struggled to keep me upright.

Temporarily I wasn't all right and I am proud of what she did, her split second reaction and the way she mustered all her strength to beach this old whale.

It makes you realize that at some point the guards become the guarded. Time changes things. Hours later when I was thinking about what Riley did I understood that while my power is diminishing her's is growing.

What I was losing wasn't lost. It was being passed on. And to someone I love without reservation.

Here she is that evening having a cone:




July 12, 2010

Photos by Grier Horner/ All Rights Reserved

Taking LIFE easy. While other members of the family played LIFE at our dinning room table recently, our cat  Evalene made good use of the top of the box.

Someone takes a spin. Evalene, notched ear and all, sleeps through it all. She is 17 and deserves her naps.



July 10, 2010

Photo by Grier Horner// All Rights Reserved

What was it in the book they were looking at that provoked this look of astonishment? I can't remember.



July 8, 2010

Paintings by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Here are four new paintings in my Salvage series. They are small, 18" x 14". They are all on a black, semi-gloss background.

They are three dimensional and the shapes are made of paint I've salvaged from various containers, many of them used to catch paint dripping off the Jeanne d'Arc paintings I did a couple years ago.

To see samples of that series, click on the Jeanne d'Arc thumbnail at the top of this blog.

You can see more of the Salvaged series by clicking on the Current Work thumbnail at the top.


July 6, 2010

This blog achieved a milestone in viewership in the 12 months ending June 30. It recorded more than 1 million hits. One million, forty six thousand, eight hundred and eighty four.  That is roughly double the number of the previous year.

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

"I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It's cloud's illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all.

I'm fascinated by clouds - their beauty, their seemingly endless variety and at times, like the one above, their majesty.

But like Joni Mitchell says in her lyrics to Both Sides Now clouds are hard to know.

Here's the sun blaze at the edge of the cloud formation I shot the other evening at Pontoosuc Lake. And below is another view.



July 4, 2010

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

This is a sequence of photos I took at the opening of Special Relationships, the new show of sculptures by Joe Wheaton and Susan Rodgers at the Berkshire Museum.

Museum Director Stuart Chase, Susan Rodgers and Joe Wheaton, left to right, are on the podium in the center of the Ellen Crane room, putting them, in essence, in a theater-in-the-round situation.

That creates problems. You always have to think about which way you are facing, because you are surrounded by audience.

This series of photographs, taken from a slew shot at the time, illustrates - I hope - some of the hoops the trio went through in this comedy of directions.



July 2, 2010

Photos by Grier Horner

Like a shaft of lightning, an element of one of Joe Wheaton's sweeping sculptures at the Berkshire Museum appears to find its target in this woman scurrying to get out of the picture at last night's opening.

Teamed with Wheaton was Susan Rodgers, another impressive sculptor. (See photo below)

Scroll down again and you have Stuart Chase, director of the museum, Susan Rodgers and Joe Wheaton from left to right, with Wheaton works in the background.

Chase said that when he approached Rodgers and Wheaton about showing in the show in the elegant, nd Ellen Crane room he had given them full freedom to pick the work they wanted to exhibit and to display it as they liked.

Wheaton and Rodgers demonstrated that Chase's faith in them was well placed. It's a tremendous show.

Here's another Rodger's piece, followed by a Wheaton.

Here's some information about the show and the artists provided by the museum:

Spatial Relationships, an installation of new sculpture created specifically for this exhibition. Running July 1 through October 11, Spatial Relationships brings together two Berkshire-based artists who...both gained their affinity for working in metal after taking adult education welding classes at local high schools.

Joe Wheaton, who lives in Becket, began working in ceramics at age 12; in the 1980s he attended Alfred University, where he studied ceramics, printmaking, photography, and sculpture. In 1990 he took a welding class at Pittsfield’s Taconic High School. “The minute I started welding,” he told art critic Carol Diehl, author of the exhibition catalog, “I knew I had to do something that truly nurtured me,” a revelation that prompted him to commit to the life of a full-time artist. Wheaton describes his work as “old-fashioned modern,” although the new work he created for Spatial Relationships is distinctly contemporary.

New York native Susan Rodgers had studied sculpture while working in theatrical set and prop design before moving to the Berkshires in the 1970s. She experienced an epiphany similar to Wheaton’s in a welding class at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington. The two sculptors share a love of working with found objects, as well as a mutual focus on line, form, balance, and shadow. But they diverge in matters of composition. As Rodgers told Carol Diehl, “… we both respond to the same art – David Smith and the usual – however I love the Mondrian grid, and I don’t think Joe’s as drawn to the grid as I am. In fact, I think he’s ‘anti-grid.’”

P.S.  Technical problems (apparently within my control but beyond my comprehension) prevented me from posting on July 1, as scheduled. I'm sure this wrecked your week.


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