Scarlet Letter
Tramp Steamer


Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

September 30, 2011

Photo by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

This is my father smoking. It will be the next photo I have blown up in the Killing Fields series that so far has focused on my mother.

To get this I messed around on the computer with a shot of my father (below) that probably was taken by my mother when I was only a few years old and we had an apartment in Scarsdale.

During part of the time we lived in Scarsdale my mother was a patient in a TB sanatarium in the Adirondacks so it is possible she wasn't the photographer. In any case it's a good shot. My parents thought my mother, who was a nurse, probably got TB from a patient.

Working with these photos of my parents when they were young brings a lot of memories and emotions flooding back.

I think my Dad, who was called Jack, was in his late 20s when this was taken.




September 28, 2011

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

This is a work in progress. You can see it in sketch form on my September 15 post. Here I think I'm making so much progress and then I look back and see that I started it two weeks ago. Of course I had been working on The Girl in White as well. For that one see September 21.

Like the others in the Runway Series, this is large - 6' x 4'. Unlike the others, except for Girl in White, the figure is painted in oil. And the paint is laid on thick with pallet knives. The detail below gives you an idea of the technique.

The background is one of my Jeanne d'Arc paintings. As you can see below, I've written a rant about waterboarding in China marker. I was upset when we learned that our side was using this and other forms of torture during the war in Afghanistan. Bush and Cheney, our ultra macho leaders,

said it wasn't torture to pour water over a prisoner's face for 40 seconds, let him get three or four breaths and repeat - for up to two hours.

ABC reported at the time that CIA agents who volunteered to try the method caved in after an average of only 14 seconds.

Sources told ABC in 2005 that al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.

CIA interrogators used waterboarding on this prisoner 183 times in March 2003. He was the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks that killed more than 3,000 Americans. For that reason you can see the desperation to get information from him. One former interrogator said that he had been cooperating until they started torturing him, and just started telling them lies. That is still disputed.

I was proud of Obama when he banned waterboarding shortly after taking office. I always thought that America was above torture, at least in theory.

Why does waterboarding enter this painting. Well, in many of them I have contrasted the beautiful and extravagantly expensive haute couture clothing at a time when we're fighting two tough wars without asking the general citizenry to make any sacrifices to support the cost.

P.S. If you think waterboarding isn't torture, try a mild form of the technique the next time you take a shower. With your back to the shower nozzle, tilt your head backward as far as you can. Remember, that unlike the prisoner you don't have a cloth spread across your nose and mouth. Let me know how long you can take it.




September 26, 2011

Last night I ran across this magnificent painting by Mark Rothko, an artist who tried to convey tragedy through abstraction and color, and was startled by the similarity to the colors I had been using to carry the same emotion.

I am not trying to compare myself in skill to that abstract master. That would be absurd. I'm showing you one of my paintings below because I think you'll see why his painting grabbed my attention.

Shown below, mine is from the series of paintings I have been doing about my mother.

In mine the rusty color has come not from paint but from sheet steel left out in the rain to weather. I have two others using the same material and have prepared more steel sheets to make more of these works which I call headstones.



September 24, 2011

Photo by Catwalking in New York Times

Sometimes a slip dress can slip too far as it has on this model in Calvin Klein's runway show of designs for Spring 2012. Or a gown can gape as in the Elie Tahari design below.

The wardrobe malfunction.


Then there's fall out. That was the plight of the young woman below who had to take action to keep that from happening. This was in Paris in 2008.


Can't find photographic credit




September 21, 2011

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Finally, I think, I hope, this painting is done. I'm not sure it's better than before I spent another afternoon on it. I'll have to live with it another week or so before I decide. Oh, oh. Maybe her faces is a little too broad up by the eyes.

In this one, unlike the others in the Runway Series, the woman was done in oil. The background is acrylic and a little pastel.

She is The Girl in White, Two. The first Girl in White is below. Both are 72" x 48" and are painted over Jeanne d'Arc paintings.



September 19, 2011

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

What could be more beautiful on your lawn than these fallen blooms from the rose of Sharon in our front yard.

Because it had grown to about 12 feet high it was starting to shade Babbie's front garden so this spring we cut it back pretty drastically.

We were afraid our handiwork would kill it or keep it from flowering, as it does from late August into mid-September. We needn't have been concerned. It flourished.

Talking about lovely things in my life here's Babbie on a walk we took recently at Springside Park, with its fields of golden rod. That's a wild aster I put in her hair. It's hard for me to believe she's 75.

Here's the Hoosic River just north of its source - the Cheshire Reservoir - as seen from the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail. Babbie was riding her bike and I was walking and listening to my audio version of Swamplandia, a fine novel by Karen Russell. Or was I still on White Noise, a fine novel by Don DeLillo.

In any case, I was being entertained by a book, enjoying the trail and the river and pausing every now and then to take pictures while Babbie was peddling her way to Adams. When she turns around she phones me and

I turn around too and we both get back to the car at the same time - in theory. The theory worked this time.



September 17, 2011

Two Shows, Four Artists

Photos by Grier Horner, except as noted

Artist One, Edward Pelkey, has a solo show at the Berkshire Community College Art Gallery at the Intermodal Transit Center on Columbus Avenue that opened Thursday night. That's him with the powerful painting, Science.

In it the scientist is creating his perfect woman, something of an updated Frankenstein effort.

"Painting itself is something like Frankenstein, if you think about it," Pelkey said.

I thought the painting above was of Mosses. But Pelkey filled me in. It's a marshal arts master in a movie, the title of which I forget.

Intriguingly, he painted the figure on an old oil painting he bought from Goodwill. In the process he not only salvaged the work but made it his own.

The painting above is a self portrait. A pretty gory one at that. I forgot to ask him what inspired it. His show, ironically, is called Paintings for Airports.

Pelkey took art at BCC in the 90s. One of his professors was Lisa Yetz, now Lisa Griffith, who is head of the department and founder of BCC's downtown gallery.


The second artist is Leo Mazzeo, whose work has suddenly taken a new turn in this three-artist show at Gallery 25 on Union Street. Known best for paintings of tractors, buildings, old trucks and still lives, he has shifted to dramatic narratives spurred by transformative events in his life.

At the top is the autobiographical Poor Judgement. Below in Swift Pursuit he said he is touching on addiction, loss of innocence, and loss of freedom, all represented by the runaway kite.

And below in Perseverance he paints strivers scrambling to scale the mountain, only to find a dead tree. But Mazzeo told me one viewer suggested that at the top the climber will also have the choice of descending into the dark on the left or into the light on the right.

Whatever the meaning, there is a new-found strength in this work.


Next is Rosemary Wessel of Cummington whose bass relief paintings are arresting. She, Mazzeo and Sean McCusker are the three at Gallery 25. Above is Breakaway, a painting that contains more than 30 faces.

It is made of plaster casts, shredded paper, latex and oil on canvas. In this painting the faces are all casts of her own face, but I didn't realize that until she told me. Represented in other pieces are casts of

her partner, Wendy Sawyer, in Bereft (two photos below), and of
Jeana Major and Ren Normantowicz.

Wessel works with authority and vision and a willingness to take chances. Witness the painting above and Bereft below. I took the one on the bottom from an angle to show you the degree the figure projects from the canvas.


Photos by Sean McCusker

Last but not least, as they say, is Sean McCusker who  works his magic in dark scenes frequented by a stylized figure he has created. Above is Farewell in pastel on paper.


Above is Reach to the Sky and below To the Horizon, which is pastel over a woodcut. While the works here are soft pastels, McCusker primarily paints in oils. His work is shown at the Lenox Gallery off Church Street in Lenox. He paints at a studio in the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts in Pittsfield.

He has a job that immerses him in art of another era. He is the assistant to Kinney Frelinghuysen at the Lenox estate of the late abstract artists George L.K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen, which is open to the public in the summer season.




September 15, 2011

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Here we go again. This is the start of a new Runway painting. I haven't finished the one I showed you on September 5 yet. But I want to be able to work on two at the same time. Again I'm using one of my old Jeanne d'Arc paintings for the background and sketched the figure in with pastel.

This shot was taken last night out in "The Pit" behind my studio where I work under a canopy in the summer. Even during the afternoon, mosquitos were out in force. I burned a Citronella candle and smeared on insect repellent to ward them off.

If you look at the bottom of the photo you can see the stones in "The Pit," which is really a giant dry well filled with about eight feet of stone. The well takes the rain water that would otherwise flood my cellar studio through its sliding glass doors.

The painting is on an eight-foot step ladder I use as an easel.

This is the composite photo I pasted up to work from. I used parts of two different models, one black, one white. You can see the grid I use as a guide on both the mock-up and the painting.

By the way, the top of the painting isn't rounded. That's the round lens shield on my camera.



September 13, 2011

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Another large photo of my mother. Counting the black support, it is 72" x 36".  It is derived from the passport photo taken when she was 18. I photographed the original black and white (below) and then cropped it and added color on the computer. This is the eighth blowup in the series if I haven't lost count.


The red and yellow symbolize the jolts of electricity delivered to her body in a mental hospital when her manic depression became overpowering. It was a treatment she underwent a number of times in her later years, a treatment she begged me to stop.

"It's like being electrocuted," she told me.

I was her last hope and I let her down. My father had approved the treatment for one reason - it worked. For a period after they were administered she would not go through the severe ups and downs that plagued her. I can't remember how long they worked but the manic depression would always return eventually and over time the shocks took a lot out of her.

I hadn't read Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest with its powerful condemnation of electric shock treatments. I don't know if the novel, which came out in 1962, had even been published yet. The time she pleaded with me in the garden of the institution may have been a year or two earlier.

More than 50 years later, I still regret not asking my father to stop them.


In the detail shots above and below, you can see how blowing the small photo up so large changed the picture drastically. I like the effects, which diminish with distance. The prints were made by Massive Graphics, Pittsfield.



September 11, 2011

Photo Mock up by Grier Horner

This is a mock-up of how my Ghost Ship, which I had made a year or two after 9/11, would look outside a window at MASS MoCA. I sent the mock-up to the museum and there was a phone conversation about different ways it could be shown. But ultimately it didn't go anywhere.

My idea would have involved encasing the 14-foot-long piece inside a Lexan sandwich and attaching it to the building to simulate Flight 11, hijacked by Mohamed Atta after it flew out of Logan, about to crash into the North Tower.

The Ghost Ship is a one-quarter scale image I made of the ill-fated Boeing. To do it I bought a model of the airliner, photographed it and then blew the photograph up over and over and over on a Xerox machine.

I thought the ship might be improved by adding words from tragic conversations associated with 9/11. So I made a mock-up of how that would look (see photo below) and submitted it.

I used to wish I could present the Ghost Ship at either full or half size. That would have been a mammoth project. Maybe someone will be interested for the 25th anniversary of that terrible day.



September 9, 2011

Photo by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

The sunset over Lake Ontario was spectacular Wednesday night as we watched it from the porch at Dave and Cookie's house. Don't miss David's shot, below.

For some years Babbie and I, Cookie and Dave and Pete and Zoa have been getting together at the lake in late summer and having a great time. This was our first time without Pete, who died in the spring of 2010.

With their wit and warmth Pete and Zoa were the glue that held their branch of the family together, that brought cousins, nephews, aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents together for several days every Thanksgiving, building lifetime friendships in the process.

I'm confident - I think we all are - that the younger generation of this family - which numbers about 40 as I calculate it - will not let the family ties unravel.

Photo by David Bates/All Rights Reserved


September 5, 2011

Photo by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

I'm still working on the girl in the gown. The previous Runway paintings have been in acrylic. This one is in Oil applied with pallet knives. It is 72" x 48".

In the last week we saw two wonderful plays: The Memory of Water at Shakespeare & Co. and Open Marriage: Renegade Wife of the Gilded Age. Both were memorable.


The stars of The Memory of Water are pictured in the Kevin Sprague photo above. Kristin Wold, Corinna May (reclining) and Elizabeth Aspenlieder are all tremendous. By turns the play is hilarious and wrenching as three sisters try to come to grips with themselves and their mother, who has just died. It was written by Shelagh Stephenson.

Anne Undeland 

Open Marriage was written by Juliane Hiam of Pittsfield and brought to life compellingly by Anne Undeland of Richmond. The unorthodox life of Elsie Clews Parsons, who summered in Lenox, is the springboard for the play that is funny and wise about love, marriage and convention.

It is the third play that Ventfort Hall has commissioned from Ms. Hiam. And Undeland has been the star of two of them, as well as other productions at the restored mansion in Lenox.

If you haven't seen them, it's too late. Both closed Sunday.



September 3, 2011

Photo by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Goldenrod, acres of goldenrod, have converted Springside Park's meadows into fields of gold. Hay fever sufferers used to blame goldenrod for their late summer affliction. Babbie says the plant got a bad rap. It's ragweed that gives you that runny nose and those watery eyes.

Goldenrod is the state flower of Kentucky and Nebraska. In 1927 Alabama adopted it as the state flower, only to reject it later in favor of the camellia.

Thomas Edison experimented with goldenrod to produce rubber, which it contains naturally, I learned from Wikipedia. He produced a 12-foot-tall plant that yielded as much as 12 percent rubber. The rubber produced through Edison's process was resilient and long lasting. The tires on the Model T given to him by his friend Henry Ford were made from goldenrod. I bet you didn't know that.


September 1, 2011


Being able to do handstands runs in my family. My mother could . My son Eric can. So can my granddaughter. And so can I. I'll show you.





I'm starting to crumple. Don't worry. I learned how to fall in football. I tucked my chin in, put my right shoulder down and went into a roll.

On the next try the side of my head hit the ground. No concussion. Proving? Even a 76-year-old can't knock himself out if he has no brains.





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