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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man



April 30, 2007


This is Autobiography, another self portrait. It is owned by the same friend who has The Armwrestlers (See April 26 post). He jokes - or maybe it isn't a joke - that his wife insists he keep it sequestered in his den.



April 28, 2007



This shot of the dropping sun was taken this week from one of my favorite evening positions - stretched out on the living room sofa.

The glowing light between the windows must have been from the sun reflecting on the camera lens. The photo is part of my Inside Out series.



April 26, 2007


This is The Arm wrestlers. It was done several years ago and is owned by a friend.

I'm wrestling with Linda Baker-Cimini and Betsy Dovydenas is looking on. The three of us had a show at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Among the paintings, we did portraits of each other.

Linda, as you can see, is very strong. She can beat me. I'd like to say I let her. But that wouldn't be true. I first learned about her interest in arm wrestling when we were in South Boston looking for art galleries to show our stuff. We went into a restaurant for lunch and from the entryway we could see people working out in a gym in back. She said she should challenge someone to arm wrestle to win money to pay for her lunch. She didn't. But from then on I wanted to do a painting of her arm wrestling.



April 24, 2007


Getting back to the self portraits I started showing you early this month, here's an old one of me with a mallet. Don't mess with me.

The painting always makes our friend Nancy laugh. Perhaps she detects a gap between the image and the subject. Always loved that raincoat, but its falling apart and I don't - really can't - wear it anymore because if it snags on anything it rips. The orange pants I bought through the J Crew catalog on sale years ago. I wear them as pajamas in winter.

This painting is roughly life sized. I think it was done about 1998 and then repainted several years later. Now that I look at it I should have done a little more work on the right forearm and hand.

The painting was never stretched. And unfortunately - or you may think fortunately - I let the canvas buckle as I was spreading it out on the floor. Consequently, there is a long horizontal crack in the paint in the knee area.



April 22, 2007

Her Wing Was All of Solid Fire, 89"x38"


I think it's finished, this painting I first showed you on March 20 when I had just cut the pieces of cardboard that underlie the wing.

This is part of the Dresden Firebombing series, up around a dozen paintings now. The shape was taken from a brilliant glass and metal wing done by Nicole Peskin and currently on display in the window at 70 North Street. As in a number of the paintings in this series, the Angel of Incineration is the subject. Since God is on our side, why not have an angel deliver the incendiary bombs England and our country rained on the civilian population of Dresden, Germany, in the fading months of World War II.

At the right is a detail of the left midsection of the painting. The paint was thinned and then poured to form the background. At first it was so garish that I thought it would overpower the wing, which hadn't been painted at that point.(See April 2). At the left is another detail shot, this one showing a little of the hieroglyphics that have been a feature of many of the Dresden paintings. The photo at the bottom right shows the painting propped up against a dying maple across from our house.

Progress on this piece has been too slow. In the last two weeks I've only worked on it sporadically. I've got to get my act in gear. Too many things are interfering with what I really want to do.




April 20, 2007


The ice has turned green and it's going. This is the Blue Anchor at Pontoosuc Lake yesterday . It felt like Spring again after days of rain, snow and cold.

Pontoosuc has lost it's ice as early as March 26, if Babbie's memory is correct. It's almost a month later this year. Winter started late and stayed late but the ice won't last much longer. You can already see large areas of blue water. It will be awhile before I walk from here to the far end again.

Got a kick out of the kids in their T-shirts. I was still bundled in four layers - five if you count my T-shirt, but had to shed one. It was nice. It shouldn't be too long before the sunbathers are out. That's when you understand why this spot at the foot of my street got its nickname - Muscle Beach.



April 18, 2007


This is Anselm Kiefer's monumental Milky Way, roughly 12 feet by 18 feet . I saw it at the Albright-Knox Museum in Buffalo a couple years ago and stood there in awe.

Born in Germany in the last months of World War II, Kiefer is one of history's greatest artists in the depiction of the devastation of war. I've been looking at his work again because of my interest in the same subject in my series of paintings on the Dresden Firebombing.

In Milky Way wires connected to the heavens appear to channel the milky way through a lead funnel into a gash in the scarred earth.

The other painting here is his Order of Angels. A lead propeller lies across the traumatized earth - perhaps a beach with waves breaking at the top.

His paintings are thick with paint. Very thick. They look like they weigh a ton. He presses straw into the paint at times. And these paintings can shed while hanging on the wall. Museums sometimes find they have to sweep away the droppings every morning.

The Guggenheim Bilbao is showing his work of the last decade through September 3. Wish I could hop over to Spain. The closest I've come to Bilbao is a T-shirt Carol brought me when she visited the museum in its early days.



April 16, 2007

This is Witch Vortex's ritual circle at MASS MoCA's new show, The Believers . Photo by Grier Horner


The Believers, Nato Thompson's swan song at MASS MoCA, makes you wish he hadn't recently left the museum for New York.

His show, Becoming Animal, was one of MoCA's best. But he could be trying, too. The Interventionists and AHistoric Occasion got mired down in concept. Sometimes he seemed to push documentation as art.

But The Believers, which he put together with Liz Thomas, is a curatorial home run.

If some of what he and Thomas are showing wasn't so sophisticated in technique, it could be billed Outsider Art. Certainly my favorite installation, the ritual circle created by a 70-year-old practicing witch, Paul Davis, is outsider art. The fact that he's unknown and local - he lives in Savoy - as well as his age give me hope. Not much hope. But a little. I once told MASS MoCA's director, Joe Thompson, I'd like to be shown in his museum by the time I'm 80.

Paul Davis wrote to Nato Thompson - no relation to Joe - some years ago in purple ink, announcing he was a witch and inviting him to Savoy to see his sculptures carved with chainsaws, according to Charles Bonenti's account in The Berkshire Eagle.

"He scared the bejesus out of me," Thompson told Bonenti. "I thought he was a wacko."

When Thompson finally did visit he found Davis "a sweet guy" who had produced a lot of fascinating work.

Witch Vortex's installation is a force field of energy. Like the artist's witch attire, it is well tailored, not frightening. But I think if you were sitting around that stone fire pit on a night where the moon was slicing through the clouds it would be appropriately spooky.

On opening night Davis was in full regalia, in a black outfit and cape with a crimson lining and a headpiece with antlers. (The image on the left was swiped from - a splendid website.) Davis exemplifies the show's theme: that these artists' belief systems set the direction for their work.

Also on hand Friday night was Theo Jansen, a native of the Netherlands who is in his late 50s, who demonstrated one of his Beach Beasts. A film playing on the wall above the beast on display in its own sand pile illustrates how they move in the wind - or with Jansen towing them on the end of a rope. The museum says he envisions releasing them in herds to live out their lives by the sea.

With the crowd watching intently, Jansen casually planted his bottle of beer in the sand and tugged his machine. It moved across the sand on centipede legs articulated like the legs of man. Jansen also demonstrated how the sails are set and claimed the many bottles attached to its spine and connected by plastic tubes capture the wind and store it so the beast can get back to the safety of the dunes if the wind dies.

Then there is:

- CarianaCarianne one woman who presents herself as two distinct individuals - each has a Master of Fine Arts degree.

- Neil Andrew Megson and Lady Jaye who have been experimenting with body modification through plastic surgery in hopes of creating one pandrogynous being named "Genesis Breyer P-Orridge," the museum's material explains. They produced the dueling wolf heads shown above. (As the top head revolves, the knife blades protruding from their mouths like deadly tongues almost clash once each spin.)

Thirteen artists in all. The show is up through October.


At the right is one of Theo Jansen's Beach Beasts. The wild painting on the back wall is by Jonathan Meese.



April 14, 2007


Let me introduce the newest member of our family - Roan Winfield Fleming Horner.

He was born Easter Sunday in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the son of Michael Horner and Meghan Fleming. Everyone is doing well. We will get our first chance to hold Roan in May. But Eric Horner will see him sooner because he is heading down to Houston for a conference and will drive over to Lake Charles.

When Meghan emailed Roan's picture, making it all real, I think my heart - like the Grinch's - grew three sizes. Just as it had when Rileywas born 71/2 years ago. I used to think all this stuff about being a grandparent was a sentimental platitude. I was wrong.

Did you notice that Roan is sleeping next to a white whale? Here's hoping he ends up liking Moby Dick as much as Michael and I do.



April 12, 2007



This is a return to the work of Todd Hido, who is one of my favorite photographers. He had a show, Between the Two, early this winter at the Stephen Wirtz Gallery in San Francisco. A monograph (you and I would call it a book) with the same name is available at photo-eye and Amazon, among others.

I first showed you work of Hido's from Roaming, his book of unpeopled landscapes that were both beautiful and haunted by sadness. (See January 7 post in my Archives.)For some

reason I can't eliminate the white line bordering this shot on the right from Roaming. Anyway, Between the Two combines photographs of abandoned houses and portraits of models in worn motels. talks of "Hido's uncanny ability to let seediness shine with an internal beauty..." I like that description.

Here the young woman has just showered. Her mascara is running. She looks cold, uncomfortable - maybe even scared - and like she might have been crying.

I don't know how good the color reproduction on this shot is. In Wirtz' ad in an art magazine it had more of a warmer cast than the shot on the gallery's website. It's a telling photo either way. I bought Roaming and would like this one too, but it runs in the $75 to $90 range and up as it becomes scarce.



April 11, 2007


Red Riding Hood on My Mind is the name of this oil on canvas. Part of the Horner Method series it was done in 2004 and is 71" x 44".

If some of these seem familiar, it's because I had them on the blog last summer. But I thought I'd run all the self portraits as a block - although I've already introduced one interruption and will probably have another.

The story line in this one is that a grown up Red is taking revenge on werewolves in London. Warren Zevon's song, Werewolves of London, was the inspiration. One of Robert Wilson's red wolves from his Stations of the Cross exhibition at MASS MoCA reappears.

The other wolves were inspired by Glenn Ligon. When he showed slides of his word paintings at Williams College a few years ago, I kept seeing figures - wolves and people - in the spaces formed by the words. Here's one of his at the right. See what I mean?

I tried to shape the wolves from the negative space around my own words, but couldn't pull it off. So I painted them in. Against Babbie's better judgment, this hangs in the addition, but not in a place of honor.

"Why in the world is she wearing a thong?" Babbie asks.

"That's not a thong, it's a bikini," I say, as if that clears everything up.

The Horner Method, by the way, was created by William Horner in 19th century England as a means of solving polynomial equations. In my painting I'm holding on to Horner's grid for dear life.



April 10, 2007


Back to the self portraits. This one is called It's My Funeral Isn't it. It's oil on canvas, approximately 70"x44" and was done in 2004.

This was part of the Horner Method series. In this one I am wearing my Jackson Pollack tee shirt and contemplating having a funeral just like Princess Diana's, right down to the soprano and Elton John singing in Westminster Abby and the crowds throwing so many bouquets at the hearse that the driver has to turn on the windshield wipers to see. Except I would like to substitute the Dresden Dolls for Elton John, assuming that was OK with him.

Among the figures are my mother and her mother, who died saving my mother, then an infant, from a fire in their house in Calgary. They are the ones in black and white. Princess Di is there, as are Babbie, Max, my late dog, Keira Knightley, Marlon Brando, one of Robert Wilson's red wolves, my version of Andy Warhol's version of Botticelli's Birth of Venus, etc. Babbie says I have to think on a somewhat smaller scale as far as funerals go.



April 9, 2007


Coming down Crane Avenue late yesterday afternoon I got this photograph of the Berkshire hills.

Babbie was driving me around Pittsfield so I could click away without crashing. We were concentrating on housing, Park Square, entries to the city, the downtown. Sort of the good, the bad and the beautiful of drive-by shooting.

I know you must be upset that I interrupted the flow of self portraits to post this Easter Sunday shot. I'll return to them sometime soon.

P.S. I couldn't get rid of that white line on the lower left of the photo, even by cropping. So I guess we're stuck with it.



April 8, 2007


Here's my Street Fighter self portrait. It's oil on vinyl from a billboard.

It was probably done in 2004 or 2005 because I did some business with a billboard outfit and one of the things they sent me was wrapped in this billboard scrap. I mounted it on canvas. It was a nice slick surface to paint on. I also liked incorporating some words printed on the discarded sign. The lower hand could use some work.

The head wound was from a skin cancer operation, not the jagged end of a broken beer bottle.

"You'll be back to see me again - if you live long enough," the middle- aged surgeon said as I left, referring to the fact that people who get skin cancer usually have recurrences.

"What makes you think you'd going to outlive me?" I asked. That retort pleased me. The problem was I didn't come up with it until the next day.




April 7, 2007


I haven't done a self portrait in a while, except with the camera. This one dates from 2004 and I did it as my Artist's Statement for my Gunrunner show at Berkshire Community College.

As far as I can make it out now, the part at the bottom says:

"The atom bomb is the weapon that says, Mess with me + I'll blast you back into the stone age. The gun, grenade, suicide bomber, box cutter are the weapons of modern revolution, ... + revenge. America was born of the gun. But the gun has become reprehensible, even repulsive, in my circles. With wanton killing + ..., that is understandable. But they have a beauty, hard + primitive, and I decided to run with guns."

My pitch was that we spent 60 years worrying about the atomic bomb, but after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that weapon was never used again in anger. Meanwhile, every 12 year old in some countries knows how to fire a Kalashnikov, and many of them do - in anger.

Anyway, the reason I'm running this self portrait is that I've been thinking about how people present themselves. (See my April 1 post.) And this month I'm going to show you some more self portraits. You can take that as a preview of things to come or a warning to skip April.



April 6, 2007






This is MASS MoCA's largest gallery during the Ann Hamilton exhibit, Corpus, in 2004. Machines on the ceiling sent reams of paper, one sheet at a time, fluttering to the floor of the cathedral-like space. Meant to instill an elegiac impact, kids found it a romp.


Today's blog is a lively email I received from Leslie Weinberg of San Francisco a couple days ago. It sums up North Adams' recent cultural history fast. She said it's OK to use it so here it is:

"...I happened on your site while looking for images of the Colonial
Theater stage, found your Rent photo and so much more. The internet
is so cool like that.

I grew up in North Adams and am excited to see the cultural
blossoming in Northern Berkshire county. When I was growing up, MASS MoCA was a mere twinkle in (Mayor John) Barret's (and [MoCA Director Joe] Thompson's, etc.) eye and the opening of
the Berkshire Mall was THE event. Never liked that mall even as a
teen! Then, Walmart showed Mr. Coury a lot of zeros and Coury's
Drive-In on Curran Highway in North Adams was demolished. So, I went
away to college and swore never to go back. I've since settled in San
Francisco and whaddya know - back home's turned into a cultural mecca!
Maybe everybody was just waiting for me to leave? (teehee)

Every time I visit my family, I'm amazed by MOCA. But more than that
I'm struck by all the artists that are coming out of the woodwork!
You are further evidence that the Berkshires are not just a tourist
destination point but a growing creative community. Hooray!
I'll be visiting in July. I hope you'll be having a show in the area.

Keep running with the wolves in your haute couture,
Leslie Weinberg"



April 5, 2007


When I woke up this morning this is what it looked like from my side of the bed. Just two days ago I was painting outside down in the Pit.

Of course snow in April isn't a freak event in the Berkshires. In the average April we get 4.5 inches of snow. We probably got an inch of that last night. Sometimes it snows in May. And a long time ago I remember a photo in the paper showing a light snow in June. The photographer had cleverly gotten someone with a hand-pushed lawn mower to write June. 2 in the snowy grass.

See you later. The sun's come out and I'm going for a walk.



April 4, 2007

Work in progress. Collage. 89"x38"


This is Stage 4. Not sure I like it as much as Stage 3, which you saw in my last post. But there's no use crying over spilled paint. And I do have the option of going forward. I'll sleep on it.

My concern with Stage 3 was that it was so garish, both in the wing and the background, that it was hard to make sense of. Now I think that Stage 3 had a chaos and stridency that may have been closer in spirit to the Dresden firebombings that are the subject of this series.

Earlier views of the wing can be seen in the March archive - March 29 and 20. I've been working on Dresden paintings for the last eight or nine months. An Angel of Incineration keeps cropping up. She is symbolic of the fact nation's at war contend God is on their side. So who better to deliver the incendiary bombs than an angel. You can view other paintings in the series by going to the Dresden icon at the top of this blog.

An update on my web stats. Two days ago I was euphoric because in March Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man topped 50,000 hits. I thought that meant 50,000 people had looked at the blog. But since then I've learned that the stat that gives you viewership is "visits." In March there were 2,803 visits. That brought me back to earth. But the visits show a clear line of building circulation and March's number was three times more than I'd ever had before.



April 2, 2007


Work in Progress, oil on collaged canvas.

Here's stage 3 of the Angel of Incineration's Wing - there will be more to come as I take you through the process. And from my department of shameless self promotioin, to borrow from NPR's Car Guys, here's a report on my blog.

In March, hits topped 50,000. That's almost twice the best month in the 10-month life of Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man. Why? You've got me. But I couldn't be more pleased. Thanks for tuning in.

Here's the hit list. Looked at most often - and this is a tribute to Marita Carroll - is the style sheet. Marita put together the combined blog and web site. Next biggest hit is the blog for last July blog_jul06

One of the reasons for that, apparently, is that No. 3 and No. 5 on the list were both in that month. Three is Anita and the Polar Bears, right, a mammoth painting that once graced a billboard. Five is Jenny Saville, the young British artist. You can see Saville by going to the link above and scrolling down to July 18 and 19. Sandwiched between Jenny and Anita are hits that take people to the current day's post.

Fifty percent of the reader/viewers are from the United States, 24 percent from Great Britain, 3 percent from Canada, and the rest from everywhere from Europe to Iran - 71 countries in total.

Back to the painting. The background is thinned paint poured on a tilted canvas. The idea was to give an under layer I can scrape down into through subsequent layers. Sort of a shame to cover it. But I think it is too strident to work with the wing, which I will keep working on too. An alternative would be keeping the background and making the wing more subtle. Not that it's the least bit subtle now. We'll see. Or leaving it the way it is.



April 1, 2007


It's not always easy to show up like this. Some people give you a hard time. But what the hell. If you're going to be a trendsetter, you have to have a thick skin.

Probably the hardest part is the hair. Not from the ridicule standpoint, but in getting it right. Bridget does my hair. (Just got a trim.)

Clothes like this don't come off the rack at TJ Maxx. Or off a homeless guy for that matter. The jacket's John Galliano and runs a cool $1,800. You probably didn't realize I'm wearing a linen vest. It would set you back another $800. Then there are the John Varvatos shorts. Lambskin. You can't even go in an buy these. But you can come pretty close starting at $195. Like I said once before, the tattoos aren't really real.

The Number (N)ine boots are covered with pretty threadbare spats. I've got to remember to tie the laces and trip over them. My son Eric always tells me untied laces are a liability.

What about the wolves? You think they scare me? Guess again.









Seth Harwood, writer

Leslie, poet

Joe Goodwin, painter

Lisa Reinke, painter

John Mitchell, commentary

Charles Guiliano, MAVERIC, art critic

Saatchi Gallery





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