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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

December 30, 2008

On the 28th I showed you how I was piecing together sections of canvas I use as drop cloths when I'm doing my Jeanne d'Arc paintings. Here's the finished collage. It reminds me of a griffin, the mythic bird-beast of heraldry. (See below)

This piece is 48"x22" and is raw canvas mounted on braced plywood. I lost track of how many pieces on canvas I used to make this patchwork painting. But you can get an idea of the approach by looking at my December 28 post.

This will be my last entry of 2008. So Happy New Year.

Remember how far away the year 2000 used to seem in 1975 or 1990? Now the year 2000 is spinning off into the distance at warp speed.

My granddaughter Riley, a child of the last year of the 20th century, is now 9. If she makes it to 101 she will have lived in three centuries. Meanwhile, our grandson Roan, a child of the current century, is now almost 2. For his life to span three centuries, Roan would have to be Methuselah. (Well, not quite. The Bible says Methuselah lived more than 900 years.)

Speaking of long lifespans, a man I liked and respected, former Pittsfield Mayor Robert Capeless, died several days ago at age 91. I told him once my goal was to live as long as he had - with one condition: Only if I could remain as sharp as he was.

Bob Capeless had this to say about lasting into one's 90's, wits about you or not: "I wouldn't recommend it."



December 28, 2008

Late this year I started working with canvas that I've used below the Jeanne d'Arc paintings, which involve pouring paint and letting it slide down the surface.

Currently I'm assembling scraps like those you see above to make a collaged painting as in the top photo. Below is another example, this time using a cut-out from my photo of a model. I end up with a take off on Sandro Boticelli's "The Birth of Venus." In this case Venus is a little more edgy than Botecelli's, who wasn't giving anyone the finger. In taking this shot the shadow of my arm was cast diagonally over part of the painting. I like the effect and will try to stain the canvas to capture it.




December 26, 2008

From time to time I come back to this painting, Anita and the Polar Bears, because it's one of my favorites. Here it is spread out on the floor. How often do you get to see a painting from this perspective?

Originally painted in 1999 when I was taking art classes at Berkshire Community College, I repainted  it in 2005. The first time it was in acrylic. The later version is in oil. The thing is 75"x99".

It's a play on work by two well-know contemporary artists: Damien Hirst and David Salle. Hirst's famous shark in formaldehyde takes center stage and a Salle-like performing bear is riding on top of the tank. So step right up, ladies and gents, you're about to see some of its component characters up close and personal.













December 24, 2008

The little drummer is frozen in mid-rum-a-dum-dum on our Christmas tree. You can see the author of the Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man in the upper right taking the shot. I hope that with President Obama we start taking the high road after 8 years of travelling the low.




December 22, 2008

I'm going through a purple period. I've been using it in the last few paintings. But at times it was drying to a black. This painting is Number 27 in the Jeanne d'Arc series, 74"x48", acrylic on canvas.

For me the purple is a very emotional color. Two days ago I showed you Number 28, a very different color scheme and technique. I'm going out of order again, for no particularly good reason. Below is a detail from this painting.




December 20, 2009

This is my first attempt throwing a little Morris Louis into one of my paintings.  I did that after looking at some Louis paintings on the web with Joe Goodwin, a friend and painter.

Louis worked acrylic by thinning it way down before he poured. So I tried to adapt his approach to this one. It's plain that I've got a long way to go. To the right is Louis's 'Nun.' No shrinking  violet, Louis made this 106 inches wide. A lot of his stuff was bigger. You can see a giant Louis over in Albany in the underground mall at the government center. Nelson Rockefeller, the governor then, was the driving force behind the modern architecture at the center and including plenty of contemporary art.

Louis's Nun is breathtaking. I wish I had painted it. Don't get me wrong. I don't wish I was Louis. He died at 49 in 1962, one of the lions of abstract expressionism.

So I tried some things out in the painting show at the top. It is No. 28 in the series. (I hope to hit 30 before the year ends.)

Unlike Louis, who painted on raw canvas, I gessoed this one gold first. I tried several approaches I thought might produce the wanted results. The end result is no masterpiece but I can see where it might lead somewhere. I'll give it another try on 29. One thing about it, you use a lot less paint. I'm not abandoning my old Jeanne d'Arc method. But if I got this down a little better it might open up another avenue. Below is a detail of my painting.



December 18, 2008

Get Out in That  Kitchen and Rattle Them Pots and Pans. Get Out in That Kitchen and  Rattle Them Pots and Pans. I was thinking of that lyric from Shake, Rattle and Roll when I took these shots tonight.

As Bill Haley and the Comets, and countless others, sang it, this was a directive to his "woman" to get out there and make breakfast "cause I'm a hungry man."

In my case after I finish this post I'm going to get out in the kitchen and rattle these pots and pans. Babbie cooks, I wash, usually about 2 in the morning. She says my schedule is a little screwy.

In this assortment of cookware she produced a vegetable beef soup that's almost a stew, perennially one of my winter favorites. See that black dish with the red lining in the foreground. That's my dish. Nice to have a great cook in the family. Of course, Babbie thinks it would be nice if I was the great cook, or even just the cook some of the time.

The picture on the right shows what the whole kit and caboodle looks like when they're clean and hanging in front of the map  of the world on the landing of the stairway off the kitchen. You might call it the world of cooking. I painted the walls and ceiling that bright yellow years ago when I got my first paint gun and compressor.

I painted a Jeanne d'Arc yesterday - without the compressor. This Joan is different than the others - not in theme but in technique. When Joe Goodwin and I were talking about approaches the other day, he mentioned the possibility of wetting the canvas before pouring the paint. I tried it. The results were interesting. I'm going to try another one like that. I'll show you soon. I know you can't wait.

One more verse:

Wearin' those dresses your hair done up so nice

Wearin' those dresses your hair done up so nice

You look so warm but your heart is cold as ice

And another (Always loved this song, even though I couldn't remember the words):

I'm like a one eyed cat peeping in a sea food store
I'm like a one eyed cat peeping in a sea food store

I can look at you tell you don't love me no more


December 18, 2008 (Part 2)

Here's a portrait of the Artist as an Old Man sitting with Mary Lodge, my friend and the daughter of Nancy Nirenberg. We were celebrating Nancy's 80th birthday. Nancy took the picture.

Mention that someone is 80 and people think of advancing decrepitude. But Nancy defies that stereotype. And she's a pistol. When I was telling the table that Nancy reminded me of my mother because she would embarrass me as an adolescent by talking to strangers. The first time I ate with Nancy, I recalled, she couldn't resist going over to another table to talk with strangers.

When I mentioned this at her birthday dinner, Nancy got up and made the round of tables in the dinning room, chatting and laughing with the strangers at each one. Then she returned, triumphantly, to our group. That's what I mean by a pistol.

Also at the dinner party at Cranwell were Nancy's son Walter, in from San Francisco for the occasion, and Jo Dare and Bob Mitchell. We had a great meal and a great time. Walter picked a rich Pommard.



December 16, 2008

Often the winter sunset here is a melancholy eraser smudge. But Monday evening it was spectacular. I took this shot from the back steps of my house. It contains a tinge of sadness nevertheless.




December 14, 2008

Leslie Harrison, a good friend who lives in the far southern reaches of Berkshire County, took these spectacular pictures following the ice storm that struck wide sections of New England and New York on Thursday night. While her rural neighborhood was hit hard, the county's mid-section, where I live, was spared. In an email Leslie wrote this about the experience:

We got hit with a very, very bad ice storm this week and I have no power, no phone. I got in to town today (Saturday) but only barely. There are 17 trees down across the wires in one 2-mile stretch of my road. We've been hunkered down around the woodstove since Thursday.

I have never seen anything so beautiful and so terrible. The world is coated in an inch of ice and today is very cold and sunny so it all sparkles and shines and the trees bend every which way and the wires drape like ribbons. I drove under one set of wires only a couple of feet above the car, drove between two more loops of wire caught on a tree and draped to the ground around it.

The power company says maybe Tuesday for restoration, but since even the town trucks can't yet get through to salt and sand, and since nobody has seen a single power truck yet, I'm not holding my breath.

I have no phone, though my voicemail is working. I leave the cell turned off and check it for messages a couple times a day to save on battery power. I'm at work, in town, right now charging it and the laptop and searching for an oil lamp to provide a little more light than the candles...

So yeah. The good news is that my house survived unscathed, though I have dozens of limbs down and at least two of my trees resemble really tall fenceposts, having lost every single limb. During the worst of the storm it sounded a lot like what a battle must sound like with the rifle-crack of limbs breaking off and the heavy artillery thump as trees and limbs hit the ground and the shattered glass hail of ice falling around it all. The sound was constant for about 12 hours. We've lost tens of thousands of trees.

P. S. Leslie says, "I don't want to live though another night like the last two. Scary thinking your house is about to be hit."




December  12, 2008

Photos by Grier Horner

Autumn Doyle, above, showed a group of courageous and powerful self portraits at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, on Monday. The local artist, who was Joe when I met him at Berkshire Community College some years ago, is now graduating with a bachelor in fine arts from UMass.

The photo above catches reflections of one of the self portraits, left, and of the artist, right. In between that's my reflection as I took the shot. In the self portrait below, Autumn symbolically saws off his antlers as part of the ritual of going through a sex change. A single antler hung alongside his photos on one wall. To see Autumn as Goth singer-songwriter check my October 27 post.




December 10, 2008

This is the 26th painting in the Jeanne d'Arc series. It is the first time I used Guerra paints  and I like them.

Guerra has a system where you mix their pigments into their binder (that's the akrylic binder in the white gallon jug in the photo). It's like rolling your own.

All the paint in this picture isn't Guerra. Some of the reds are Benjamin Moore gloss acrylic enamel. And the background and another color or two are Passano Paints semi-gloss acrylic. The dark gold comes from mixing colors into the Daniel Smith gold gesso I use.

Anyway, it's a pretty neat system and the name has a revolutionary ring, a la Che Guevara.

I need to come up with a name for this Jeanne d'Arc. So I'm turning to my notes on her trial in 1431. How's this: "The said Jeanne, like a madwoman...cast herself from the top of a high tower." That was an attempt she made to escape from her captors. I don't know how high the tower was but she apparently was not seriously hurt in the unsuccessful effort to get away.

This painting is 74"x49" and was done nine days ago. After doing two in a row that were 84"x60", this one seems small. I'm going nuts because I haven't had a chance to do any painting since then. I have to get my time under better control.




December 8, 2008

This weekend Babbie, Shannon, Riley and I drove to Gettysburg to attend the funeral of my Uncle John Horner, a kind, gentle, wonderful man who we loved and admired. He was 87.

With his death, my Uncle Bill, 81, is the only one left of the six children of Winfield Grier and Naome Evelyn (Rice) Horner. My father was the first to go when he died at work in New York City in 1965. He was only 58. My mother had died six months earlier.

Eric and I had flown down in September to visit John in the hospital after he suffered a heart attack. We hadn't expected him to make it. But when he got there he regaled us with tales of Army life on the home front during World War II. He made a remarkable comeback.

It wasn't his first. Within a matter of weeks he joined his nursing home group on a trip to the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. He was touched when another visitor shook his hand and thanked him for his service. He also enrolled in a college course on the Civil War. He was an expert on the Battle of Gettysburg and grew up on a small orchard on the fringe of the battlefield. The one-room school he and his brothers and sisters attended was called Little Roundtop School because of its proximity to that famous Civil War battle.

I took this cell-phone photo of the sunset reflected on the side of a truck on Interstate 84 as we headed to Gettysburg Friday evening. With its sense of moving into both darkness and slashes of color, the picture seemed fitting to the occasion.

After the church service John was laid to rest in cemetery beside his wife Elizabeth. His daughters Sandy and Sue and his four grandchildren, three of them now raising his great grandchildren, were all there.

As snow fell and the wind blew, an honor guard of veterans fired a parting salute, orange flame spitting from the guns. I was standing behind Riley, who is 9, with my hands on her shoulders. With the sound of each volley, she flinched. In that cemetery at that battlefield, the discharges made me wonder at the valor of soldiers who had to face real bullets in real wars.

Of course funerals are a time of the gathering of the clan and we basked in its warmth, remembrances and humor. John, the consummate family man, would have loved it.


December 5, 2008

Tone Bone$ is his moniker and he and some friends have spray painted a stunning installation at the Zeitgeist Gallery on North Street in Pittsfield.

At 30 Tone Bone$ is a 15-year veteran of the Pittsfield graffiti wars.  While he says he doesn't spray anywhere he isn't welcome these days, that wasn't always the case. He wants to remain anonymous on this blog because "some people are not too happy with what I've done over time." And there is a two-year sentence for graffiti which he is very aware of.

The picture above is a segment of the 30-foot long mural he and a friend, with a little help from four others, painted for the Zeitgeist show that gallery operator Allan Nidle says will be up through Christmas. At the left is a detail of the main painting.

The first step was having WJ Blueprints on West Housatonic Street print out the two train cars that were tacked up in the gallery to serve as the canvas for the artwork. This shop can turn out digital graphics 52" wide by as long as you want them. The graffiti train is on two 30-foot strips pieced together.

I wanted to know how he gets such clean edges with an aerosol can.

"Can control is what they call it," Tone Bone$ said.

You can see more of his work in the roofless bays behind Oliver Auto Body and on Lincoln Street.

At some point Tone Bone$ hopes he can bridge the gap between street art and gallery art as Barry McGee and Jeremy Fish have done on the West Coast - and as Jean-Michel Basquiat did in the 80s. Basquiat's paintings now sell for millions.

Below is Allan Nidle. Next to his shoulder is Tone Bone$ portrait of the Unibomber. It is one of 110 paintings he has on the wall opposite the train. Tone Bone$ also has a heroic-scale tank - a political cartoon - on the outside wall of the building.

A word about Zeitgeist: This is not your father's gallery. It's laid back and edgy at the same time. It not only shows art but features live music on weekends. Allan is trying to run it as something of democracy. On Tuesday afternoons a bunch of artists and musicians, most of them in their 20s and 30s, sit around a long table and talk about what comes next.

Tone Bone$ installation is pretty spectacular. If you can, take a look. Zeitgeist is at 648 North Street, Pittsfield. The hours (Since this is a pretty loose operation, I'd call the hours approximate.): Mon 7-10PM, Wed-Fri 4-9PM, Sat 1-9PM, Sun 1-7PM. Daytime by appointment. Email the gallery at [email protected] or go to facebook to get more of the flavor of the place.




December 3, 2008

Pontoosuc Lake on an overcast afternoon. At the top of the ridge beyond the West Shore you can see the wind turbine that generates electricity for the Jiminy Peak ski area.

Yesterday's shots are in an album you can see on my facebook profile page. It was 40 degrees out but the wind was blowing and it felt colder. I walked up to the north end of the lake an bought a coffee with sugar and plenty of cream at the new Mr. Donut shop and drank it on the way back. Overall it's a two mile walk from my house. Below, an ice-filled rowboat at the Blue Anchor.



December 1, 2008

Sorry to go AWOL but we were in Eastern Massachusetts for our annual Thanksgiving celebration at the home of Babbie's brother Pete ( in the back row with his hand on his chin ) and his wife Zoa ( the lovely white-haired woman to his right ).

The get-together drew relatives from California, Louisiana, Maine, New Jersey, Massahusetts and Connecticut.

As always we had a great three-day outing. There was a lot of feasting, a lot of catching up, a lot of laughter and a lot of love. Below are the youngest members of the congregation.

 Here the crew is preparing to levitate Ellie.



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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