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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

August 29, 2013

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Another abstract, finished two days ago. It is I Did Not Know Then How Much Was Ended or for short Wounded Knee. As with my previous painting (see my August 22 post), the title is drawn from the words of Black Elk, the Lakota Oglala medicine man who was of that time. The painting is 58" X 62" including its black boarder. (I will install grommets in the boarder at the top and bottom for hanging.)

Wounded Knee was a massacre of Sioux men, women and children by American forces. There are differences about how many died at their encampment, their frozen bodies dumped in a mass grave later. From what I've read the toll was 200, more or less. And I haven't figured out yet why it happened.

Years later, Black Elk was quoted by John Neihardt in his book, Black Elk Speaks, as seeing that incident as being the fatal blow to his people's spirit.

"I did not know then how much was ended," Black Elk told Neihardt in 1930. "When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream."



Above and below are details from the painting. I keep changing the title for this one. It had been Something Else Died There in the Bloody Mud. I thought that was too graphic, perhaps. Maybe I'll go back to that one. Anyway, it is about the death of a people's dream.









August 27, 2013

Photo by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

I made this painting on my computer last night. I'll have to try this more often. Meanwhile, I'm working on a real painting down in my studio. I thought it was finished this afternoon and then I started messing around with it. Hope I didn't ruin it.

Yesterday I ordered a 30-yard roll of canvas. Ninety feet of No. 12 unprimed canvas 84 inches wide is a new sign of my optimism about the future. My first was an order earlier this year of 5000 sheets of copy paper. Both should last for a while.

The trouble with a 30-yard roll of canvas is that it weighs a ton, at least to this 78-year-old painter. I remember the last time I got one I had a hard time boosting it up to the overhead shelf where I store it in my studio. My plan this time is to divide it into two rolls, cutting the weight in half. There is one problem. Where am I going to store the second roll?




August 22, 2013


Photo by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

And When I Breathed, My Breath was Lightning is the working title of this painting I did this week. It is 55" x 69" and is acrylic on canvas. If you've been following my blog you know I've been messing around with non-figurative art this year for the first time since my Jeanne d'Arc series of 36 paintings in 2008-2009.

This, I would say, is my stab at abstract expressionism. I like it and, like the others, had a ball doing it. See the lightning strike in the upper right of the painting? I'm debating whether I need to repaint it to make it slash across the painting at a sharper angle.

The quote I used for the title was from Black Elk, a visionary and eloquent Oglala Lakota (Sioux) medicine man. He's pictured below in his old age with a sacred pipe. He had been a warrior, a healer, a tribal religious figure, a member of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in the U.S. and London and the subject of a book.


The full quote, I think, was:

"Then the bay horse spoke to me again and said: 'See how your horses all come dancing!' I looked, and there were horses, horses everywhere — a whole skyfull of horses dancing around me. My bay had lightning stripes all over him and his mane was cloud. And when I breathed, my breath was lightning."


This is a detail from the painting. Below is another.

To read a brief history of Black Elk and the Sioux when they were fighting the American Army's effort to put them on reservations, you can go to this history.com link.

After the slaughter at Wounded Knee in 1890, Black Elk was convinced by Chief Red Cloud to surrender. Black Elk lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation and later converted to Catholicism. In 1930, the writer John Neihardt  met with Black Elk and recorded his life story, along with his extensive knowledge of Lakota history and traditions, in the book "Black Elk Speaks" published in 1932). (Black Elk would die 18 years later)

In the book's last chapter, history.com says, Black Elk poignantly reflects on the moment Red Cloud convinced him and others to surrender in the wake of Wounded Knee: "I did not know then how much was ended….I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream."





August 20, 2013

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved


Such is the Strangeness of the Heart, my latest painting, incorporates a new technique - new to me anyway. I find that anytime I think I have come up with something new it has been done countless times before. Be that as it may, my "new" technique was to color this in pastel and then brush on clear acrylic gel. Over and over. Layer after layer. Below are close-ups of the result.



The quote is from the Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I shortened it by removing the word human. The actual quote is: Such is the strangeness of the human heart.

This painting is 55" x 38". Like some of my other recent work, it won't be stretched but grommets will be inserted in the black boarders top and bottom to provide for fastening it to the wall.





August 18, 2013

Photo by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

This is a self portrait I made last night. It started out with a picture I took on Photo Booth on my Mac and then put it in Aperture, Apple's photo editing software, and messed around with it there.


This was the Photo Booth shot. It was cooler, I thought, after Aperture. I was wearing the bright yellow shirt I had on when I went to Judy's annual Eagle Reunion party earlier in the day. I wore it because I like being inconspicuous. It was a great party, as Judy's always are.

The computer-manipulated version at the top of the post is one I will probably add to my series. Remembrances of Things Past. Unlike my mother and father, who the series focuses on now, I'm not past. But I will be at some point. So under my flexible rules I'm expanding that show, which hung for two months last summer at the BCC downtown gallery. I showed you another computer-manipulated self portrait earlier this year. Here it is again. One of the things I like about it is that it's so three dimensional.


I'm sure my mother, who died 48 years ago, would be pleased I turned out in beautiful Technicolor. Here's one I made of her but did not include in the show, although I did have one that was similar.








August 14, 2013


Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

A vivid show of works by two local painters has been on display this summer at Berkshire Community College's downtown art gallery, which was scheduled to close at the end of June.

But the gallery won a temporary reprieve when the paying tenant that was displacing it at the Transit Center on Columbus Avenue in Pittsfield hit a financial snag.

Soldier On won a federal grant to operate a call center there to arrange rides for veterans. But the money has been held up.

"When the federal Money flows again, we'll be kicked out," explains Lisa Griffith, the head of the art department at BCC. Her work graces the photo above. It looks now, she said, that the reprieve will last until November or December.


Faced with an extremely short time to mount a new show, Lisa enlisted Colleen Quinn, a Pittsfield High art teacher who also teaches evenings at BCC. Together they mounted a show that saved the day. The photo at the top shows Lisa's sculpture of a blue and white dress backed by her painting that echoes the dress's sky and cloud motif. In that photo Lisa is at the left and is talking with Benigna Chilla, the retired BCC art department leader.

Colleen's large painting, Moore, is on the wall in the second photo. The shot was taken at the First Fridays Artabout 12 days ago - boy, I'm not exactly current with this post. In the picture, from the left, are Ted Griffith, Babbie Horner (my wife), Van Shields, head of the Berkshire Museum, Lisa Griffith and Peggy Rivers, who is Van's wife and a new member of the BCC art faculty.

This is Lisa's second sculpture in the show, with her painting of tiger lilies behind it. The unifying element in the two-woman show is that both artists are showing their sculpture together with related paintings. The green spheres at the right of the picture are Colleen's sculpture Nature Takes.


Paired with Nature Takes are Colleen's paintings Snooki's Ride, above, and Moore, in the second photo from the top. The paintings are of natural disasters but in a style the celebrates the objects, places and people hit by the disasters rather than illustrating the destruction. Snooki's Ride is a roller coaster that was washed out to sea by Hurricane Sandy and Moore is a map of the Oklahoma city devastated by a huge tornado earlier this year.

The painted balls in the sculpture and the circles in the paintings represent the souls of the dead. When her father died 10 years ago, "I started to wonder what happens to your soul."

Similarly, Lisa's bodiless dresses prompt the question, Where have the wearers gone? In effect they are also self portraits.


Lisa's portion of the show also includes intaglio prints of empty dresses above. In stark contrast to her colorful sculptures, is the one below. It is the only survivor from her "Sisters of Death" series.


Good reporter that I am, I forgot to get the show's end -of- the summer closing date or the days the gallery is open. But you can see it well from the gallery's big windows on the sidewalk. So why not take a stroll on Columbus when you're downtown.



August 7, 2013

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Shooting through dirty car glass can produce interesting results. I took these from the Prius yesterday along the Mass Pike. Babbie was at the wheel. We were returning from four days in New Hampshire with our son Eric and our grandsons Chad and Chase.

I extracted the cloud profile and colored globe above from the photo below.

The one below was taken through the windshield as the sun was breaking through the clouds.



August 2, 2013

Photo by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Have you ever seen the work of an artist you never heard of and decided he was one of the greats, perhaps the best in his field? I did Wednesday at the Storm King sculpture park. His name is Alexander Liberman. This piece above in International Orange is Iliad. Made in 1974-1976, it is a crowning achievement in contemporary sculpture in my book.

Not only was he a great sculptor and a painter of note, art wasn't even his day job. in 1941 he and his second wife Tatiana Yacovleff du Plessix escaped from occupied France in World War II and made their way to New York City. There he landed a job with Vogue Magazine and by 1943 had become its art director. Demanding a fresh approach to fashion photography and editorial content, Liberman made a name for himself at Conde Nast  Publications. In 1962 the firm named him the editorial director of its magazine operation, a post he held for three decades. In its 1999 obituary on Liberman, the Los Angeles Times said:

"Liberman is credited with playing a major creative role in the development of the Conde Nast empire, which grew from a company with four magazines to publisher of 17, including Architectural Digest, Vanity Fair, Gourmet, Conde Nast Traveler and the New Yorker, reaching more than 76 million readers each month."

Chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr. said, "Alex was a towering figure in the history of Conde Nast." And Vogue editor Anna Wintour said, "He wasn't a snob and was equally pleased to discuss an episode of [the TV serial] 'Dynasty' as he was the Hermitage [museum in St. Petersburg, Russia]."

Liberman who had been painting since 1936, turned to sculpture in 1958. In sculpture he also became a towering figure. Look at his gleaming white Argo below in the Milwaukee Art Museum's sculpture park. The photo is by Mark Artsit.




And here's Liberman's  Adonai, 1970-71, at Storm King, which is near West Point on the Hudson River. It's the first Liberman sculpture I ever saw. I don't like it as much as the others on this page. It's sort of brutish. I think you can get a better sense of what I mean by brutish in this shot I took from the tram that rides you around the beautiful 500-acre park. If you want to get a better look at the works, you really need to walk.


In contrast to the portrait of the cosmopolitan Liberman a couple photos up, here's one of him at work on a sculpture.

By 1963 he had hired an assistant to do the grinding and labor required to make large sculpture.

One of his first public commissions was from the architect Philip Johnson for a pavilion at the 1963 World's Fai. According to his gallery, Mitchell-Innes & Nash in New York, "Other important commissions quickly followed, and over the next decade he purchased additional equipment and hired additional personnel to meet the increasing demand for, and the scale of, his sculpture. In this sense his 'day job' was supporting his passion for making large public sculpture."

Above is a Liberman abstract from the 1960s and below is a wall from an exhibit at Mitchell-Innes & Nash last year. Reviewing that show for Vogue Dodie Kazanjian said that Liberman's timing in art was off. "He stopped making work like this (the paintings below) in 1963, just as minimalism burst on the scene. Liberman said he was tired of the "negativism and severity of geometric painting"... His own work became much more expressionistic (above) - just as Abstract Expressionism was losing steam. As he put it: 'I was always working against the grain.' "

So that's my bit on Liberman. A pretty amazing guy to do all these things and do them so well. Oh, and I've neglected to tell you he also wrote a couple books.


Here's one for the road. I took it at Storm King, a great place to visit if you like sculpture.






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