Scarlet Letter
Tramp Steamer

Archives | Links
Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

April 30, 2008

This is Cathedral (Number 5). It's been reworked a lot from the original, which I decided I didn't like. I'll show you the original version below so you can see what's been happening.

Major changes were made Monday. I still didn't like it. So I poured more paint yesterday. The original had a cleanness of line to commend it. But it seemed too simple, too geometric. Which version do you like better?

Yesterday after school Riley, Babbie and I went to Dottie's coffee house for a treat.

Riley picked her favorite table. It's round and the top is covered with pages snipped from old books. Riley, who's sharp eyed, long ago discovered this table can be used to tell your fortune. Two of the aged pages contain fortune telling charts.

So Riley told our fortunes and we told hers. Not just once, but at her insistence, but repeatedly. The  most interesting I got was: "You will thrice wed and die a widow." We decided it was all right to convert the gender to widower. Say I live to 80, that means I have to get married twice in the next seven years and that the last wife will die

before I do.

"After all that, Babbie (my first and present wife) will probably shoot me," I told Riley.

"I'd never shoot him," Babbie said. "I'll just trip him."

Riley thought that was hysterical. Then we went home and Riley showed us how to take weird pictures (like the one above) on the iMac. It was a good afternoon.



April 28, 2008


Embracing the Hoosic River light show and each other was this couple Saturday night. I took the shot from the south

side of the flood control project.

Stretches of the flood control chute in North Adams became a river of light Saturday night. Crowds overflowed the sidewalks and bridges along Marshal, River and Holden streets on a balmy evening to get a look.

"I never thought I'd see the flood control look beautiful,'' I overheard one older man say. And it was beautiful.

It was conceived by Ralph Brill, a North Adams artist, and executed with the help of 10 graduate students from the Lighting Research Center at RPI in Troy and other volunteers. Brill had to go through a long process to get permission from the Army Corps of Engineers, who encased the flood-prone Hoosic River in concrete in the 1950s. He enlisted the support of Mayor John Barrett.

I would guess that several thousand people turned out to take a look. I hope Brill can turn it into an annual event.

If my shots above and below look a little blurry, it's the result of long exposures with a hand-held camera.

I got a kick out of the couple in the foreground in the picture at the top. It was a good evening for a long embrace and they took advantage of it.

I took this from the Marshall Street bridge looking east toward the Holden Street bridge.



April 26, 2008

This is Roan Horner interrupted at lunch by his grandfather. That's me. "Come on," he seems to be saying, "who's this guy with the funny face."

During my unauthorized break from blogging we were in Lake Charles, Louisiana, bayou country. That's where our son Michael, his wife Meghan Fleming, and Roan live. It's a fine place. My only complaint is the heat and the distance from Pittsfield: we don't get to see them very often.

Roan just turned one year old a couple weeks ago. He says Cat - they have two that he likes to pursue - in a Cajun accent. Roan's the first Louisiana native in our family. And what a great addition he is.

Babbie and I flew down with our daughter Shannon and her daughter Riley, who was enchanted with her cousin. We all were. Meghan called us Roan's fan club. And indeed we are. In the shot on the left you have Roan, Meghan, Mike, Riley and Shannon. Babbie took the shot. Shannon took the one of Roan and me.

Next winter Babbie and I hope to rent a downtown loft and spend a month in Lake Charles. Laisser les bons temps rouler.



April 17, 2008

(Beneath this post you will find my version  of summer reruns. I'm taking a week off.)

Here is Cathedral (Number 16). I finished it this afternoon. Had trouble extinguishing the intensity of the flames. Finally came up with this semi-mild coloring.

I love the root beer color of the cathedral itself. After I got that color down, I agonized about whether to call it a day or to add flames. Something of a fire or ice decision. I went with fire. First they were too bright. I had to redo them several times.

But I plan to do another with just the brown, assuming I can figure out how I got it. This is done with acrylic enamel and acrylic on canvas and is 36" x 24".

Two reruns of my blog and one rerun of paintings of Anita start just below.


June 10, 2006

(This was my first blog post.)

"The most important thing in acting is honesty. If you can fake that, you've got it made."
-- George Burns

I like that quote. There's an honesty to it. In painting you spend a lot of time faking it. In the painting below called Self Portrait (Street-fighter) I adopt a brawler persona.

In real life I haven't fought anyone since Delos Huguenin and I scuffled in the dirt in Casey's back yard in Tarrytown when we were 16. Bob Gersky broke my nose when we were college roommates. But I don't think of that as a fight. He was the only one who threw a punch, and I provoked it.

Delos - The teachers all had a hard time with both his names - was a nice guy, a sturdy, good looking kid. His father had built some furniture for my father. I still have some of it. Delos became an elevator installer. An elevator fell on him when he was on the job, killing him. He was very young.

While I'm not a bar-room brawler, I fight in my dreams. And I fight without much provocation. Don't cut me off in line. Don't look at me sideways. You might get punched out. By the way, I always win.

One of my victims was my wife, Barbara. She's been called Babbie since infancy. Her mother read "The Little Minister" when she was pregnant. Babbie was the heroine. I was hitting some guy in my dream but I actually slugged her. Fortunately it was a light punch. She said it didn't even wake her up.

I flatter myself that I'm dangerous to sleep with. Or I could be if I packed more of a wallop. A lot of people want to be dangerous in bed.

Getting back to the Street-fighter self-portrait, the bloody forehead isn't the result of a broken beer bottle or brass knuckles. I had just had skin cancer surgery. As I got up from the table, the surgeon said, "If you live long enough, I'll see you again."

He was obviously referring to the probability that I would have skin cancer again. And he was right. But at 70, I didn't like the way he put it. Two days later I thought of what I should have said. "What makes you think you're going to outlive me?"


October 15, 2007

(Rerun 2)

This is me in my so-called studio. I took this "before" shot yesterday afternoon as I prepared to take the plunge and clean it up.

When I restore order, I'll show you the "after." You'll be impressed.

As things are, there's a narrow path so I can get through the place to get out to my tent where I painted this summer - what painting I did.

But now that, thankfully, I'm working hard again and with cold weather approaching I need to paint indoors. Right now, that's barely possible in the studio. So I've been doing my Monk Memorial stuff upstairs in the addition. (See October 5 post)

Having a studio that's a disaster puts me in some good company. Here's a picture of the late great Francis Bacon in his. It looks worse than mine. The only other studio I've seen that would give Bacon and me competition is Kinney Frelinghuysen's in Lenox.

What I probably need is a front end loader. But instead I've bought tall shelving on wheels and a cart on wheels. Since I already have a table on wheels - it's in the foreground of the top photo - I'm going to have a lot of studio mobility.

I used to paint with the canvas tacked to the walls. But in 1965 and 1966, when I was churning out the Scarlet Letter paintings, I was hanging them on the painting wall as I went along. Since the show at the Lenox Library ended, I've hung a number of them back up because a friend who bought a bunch is thinking of buying some more and is going to take a look at them. So there's no room on the wall to tack up a big canvas. Even if there was, I can't really get to the wall. So it's past time to whip things into shape.

Actually, I hate clutter. But I'm better at creating it than cleaning it up.


Painting Reruns

This is Anita, a model I used when I first started painting seriously about 10 years ago. But I did this painting last year.

A photo I took of Anita, one of many, is one that month after month, shows up among the top 10 things people look at on my blog. (I can't find it in my files right there.) But below is Anita and the Polar bears, one of my favorites. It's about 9 feet long, oil on canvas. Painted in 1999 and repainted about two years ago.



April 15, 2008

Clouds are often overlooked - or underlooked. You can go for a walk without looking at the sky. Sometimes, lost in thought, I just look at the ground.

But cloudplay is rich, ever changing visual theater. I grabbed this shot Saturday when I was on the back deck shooting Cathedral (Number 15), the painting in my April 13 post.

After the addition to our house was finished in 1971, I built a sofa - a project that I somehow managed to pull off with a Skill saw - and arranged it in the room so that I could lie on it and watch the clouds through our new clearstory windows. (At the right you can see it along with a mural size painting I did of Linda.)

I surprised myself by finding I wasn't much good at lying and looking. If I'm awake I feel compelled to be doing something. And that's too passive to fit my personality's definition of something. But I still marvel at cloud formations and often shoot them. Below's an older shot.



April 13, 2008

Cathedral (Number 15) uses a structure hijacked from Franz Kline, the abstract expressionist.

But as you can see from the picture of his heroic 1953 work called New York (at the right) mine lacks his freedom and dynamics, to say nothing of his originality. Of course I'm not Kline, who is one of my favorite painters.

But I've thought since early in the Cathedral series it would serve as a takeoff point for one of the paintings.

"Why are you putting flames in all these paintings?" Babbie asked me yesterday afternoon while she watched me painting flames.

"I guess I'm a pyromaniac," I said.

I'm not a pyromaniac but I haven't quite figured out why my cathedrals are all burning, but there's some obvious symbolism there. At first this one wasn't. But then I added the flames. They covered a section I had botched up. And they continued the theme. I don't know where the blue arrow came from. It just appeared. It made me happy. By the way, this Cathedral is 69" x 49.5".

P.S. The ice has gone from Pontoosuc Lake. While a week ago fishermen had been out on the ice, yesterday there were boats. Once the ice started to decay it didn't have long. By Wednesday it had turned that dark green that signals the end is near. By Thursday wide expanses of the lake were ice free.

P.S.S. After playing basketball with Riley Thursday, I decided I wanted a ball of my own. I bought one Friday and she and I shot baskets at the Capeless Elementary School yesterday using my ball. During the week when she's in school I think I'll go up to Ponterril and shoot some. Maybe Babbie will join me. She liked to play in high school.



April 11, 2008

I've slept in Grant Park behind the Fifth Avenue Library in New York, during meetings of the Planning Board, during the March Madness final . As of yesterday add to that MASS MoCA, the great contemporary art museum in North Adams.

Yesterday my good friend David, who is also my brother-in-law, and I had lunch on Spring Street in Williamstown, hit the old library that rises imposingly over Main Street in North Adams and then visited MoCA.

We looked at Finch's apple-dropping machine and his big blue sculpture made of plastic sheeting and clothespins. Then we climbed to the third floor to explore Eastern Standard: Western Artists in China. They've got some very impressive big screen videos running there. We parted the heavy black curtains to go from gallery to gallery. (The transition areas are so dark it's spooky.)

We settled down in the comfortable sling chairs in the gallery showing "Flotsam Jetsam" by Patty Chang and David Kelley, both Americans. I got a kick out of the young woman pictured above in their film. She was miming a flight attendant giving the emergency instructions on a plane. But she was on a boat going into a big lock at the Three Gorges on the newly damned - or is it dammed - Yangtze River. Then the video launched into the building of a styrofoam and wood submarine that was launched (actually cradled on a boat) below the dam and went upstream.

The flight attendant was funny but what followed was a little slow, very S-L-O-W. Then I noticed that David was asleep. He got a call on his cell and left for the next room. Then I went to sleep. David said I was out about 45 minutes. I woke up occasionally, jolted into consciousness three times by loud snorts, but plunged back into dreamland each time. Finally David woke me up.

We got some coffee in the cafeteria and drove home.


April 9, 2008

I am not religious. I guess I'd consider myself an agnostic at best. But strangely a feeling of spirituality came over me while I was working on this cross. That took me by surprise.

It's 1:35 a.m. now and I just heard the whistle of a freight train. The closest the tracks are to my house is about three miles. You can only hear the whistle when the atmospheric conditions are just right. Maybe in my case the same is true on issues of the spirit.

To end this on a secular note, let me tell you this painting is on a 4' x 2' hardboard panel from Home Depot. It was done with acrylic enamels. It was planned as part of the Cathedral series. Since it doesn't share the technique of those paintings, I wonder if it fits?


April 7, 2008

Here's Cathedral (Number 14). This is the one I showed you in late March, the one done with paint flowing off a wooden stirrer into wet, pooled paint on a canvas lying flat on a table.

I can't give you a link to it because somehow I can't get into my March archive. But we'll get that fixed tomorrow I hope.

As soon as a line of paint was laid down, the pooled paint had its way, and straight lines zigged and zagged. Nothing is plumb. The door especially. The tower wanders. The flames were done with a pallet knife.

I had hoped to get a black mirrored surface for the background. But over the hours the black dried, much of it lost its shine. The next pooled-paint cathedral will be on a panel, instead of a canvas, in hopes of retaining more of the mirror surface.

The painting is 36" x 24". The paint is acrylic enamel and gold gesso. The only section of the canvas that I touched while making the painting was the flames, which were done with a pallet knife.

In the April 5 post I indicated that the ice on Pontoosuc Lake was getting too thin to walk on. Well, much to my surprise, fishermen were out on the ice on Saturday and Sunday. Not a lot, like many winter weekends, but a few. And not me. When the ice starts breaking up along the shore and looks like it's decaying, I don't want anything to do with it.


April 5, 2008

The ice on Pontoosuc Lake is still with us. But not for long. I took this shot Thursday, aiming it so you could see how the ridgeline forms a woman lying on her back.

Only a few days earlier fishermen were still out there, and a few days before that so were their pickups. But now the ice is thinning and breaking up along the shore.

So it looks like I've taken my last lake walk of the season. I love it out there, but I'm ready to let go of the cold.


April 3, 2008

Reversing course, I'm abandoning Cathedral temporarily and revisiting River Works, a series I did earlier this year.

Blame it on the wind. I've been shooting my paintings outside for the last month or two, ever since I asked Jonas how he got such great shots of Betsy's monoprints and he told me he took them outdoors and photographed them in a quartering sun.

Yesterday the wind was blowing. I figured if I stood the latest Cathedral up against the house the wind would knock it down. So I pulled out this painting. It weighs a ton and I knew it wouldn't blow over. Besides, I've never had a good shot of it on the blog. The other time I used it was January 8. I just looked back at that post and it wasn't such a bad shot after all. I did another painting in this vein, which I ran on January 28.

This painting is of the Housatonic River as it flows through the abandoned GE plant in Pittsfield. It's 4' x 2'. It's heavy because everything but the river is made of Level-Best, a cement-like substance.

The painting is of the plant at night. And in

most lights the painting is darker. The spots of gold and green symbolize the PCB hotspots that contaminated the plant and the river all the way to Long Island Sound. GE has been forced to spend millions to clean the environmental mess up. PCBs, a suspected carcinogen, were used to fireproof the oil inside many of the transformers manufactured at the factory. Over the years the PCB-treated oil was handled carelessly and heavy concentrations of the chemical wound up in the river.



April 1, 2008

Still running with the wolves. It’s getting harder now that I’m old. But it’s in my blood, in my DNA.

There is nothing like the wolf. Wild, carnivorous, ferocious, rapacious, free, loyal. All it takes to join the wolves is - how can I put it - animal magnetism. Canis lupus will let you rub his ears and scratch his belly, if you have it, and will wag his tail

and lick your face.

As a footnote you might be interested to know that Franz Mesmer, 1734-1815, discovered Animal Magnetism. Or as he called it “Magnetisme Animal.” Mesmerism took his name.

These days, at 72, I find I enjoy the wolves' companionship, the warmth of their huddled bodies on a cold night, more than I do the chase. So mostly, when I’m with them, we just hang out.

It is commonly but mistakenly believed that there are no more wolves in New England. But just as the mountain panther, the puma, is back, so is the wolf. I think this picture of me and my favorite, Fang, will put that to rest.

The forest of hundreds of acres across the street from our house provides the deer and other mammals that sustain a pack of five, including two pups.  And I'm afraid my pack does a little foraging for lambs and calves, as well as the occasional domesticated animal. Is it so hard to believe that a forest that provides habitat for bears is not suitable for the wolf?

Don’t bother to follow me in an effort to find them. They are too smart to reveal themselves.

If you want to encounter wolves and run with them, here is something you must grasp:

Vestibulum eget purus vitae eros ornare adipiscing. Vivamus nec quam. Integer vestibulum malesuada libero. Sed vehicula fermentum leo. In condimentum. Vivamus sit amet erat nec turpis tempus consequat. Curabitur nunc eros, euismod in, convallis at, vehicula sed consectetuer posuere, eros mauris dignissim diam, pretium sed pede suscipit.



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


© grier horner - all rights reserved •