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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man



August 31, 2007

Christine Heller, Splintered Child , 38" x 25"


Shown in rooms off Christine Heller's masterwork in an elevator shaft (see yesterday's post), are a new series of paintings she calls The Lives of Children.

"In these works, the specifics of war have given way to the conflicts and struggles of children," Christine says. They have titles like The Boy Who Stood Still, The Girl Who Stopped Turning, The Boy Who Couldn't Breathe and Splintered Child (above).

She had been doing pictures of children in war that had been increasingly splintered, diffused, disintegrating and beautiful, and that continues in this series. You can see more of them at Christine's web site Christine Heller .

She has had 20 one-woman shows - many of them at colleges - in the last 28 years. Looking at the images of the last two days on this blog its easy to understand why.

The show is at the John Davis Gallery at 362 1/2 Warren Street, Hudson, New York on Thursday through Monday through September 9. The hours are 10 to 5:30.

My post August 29 about her amazing elevator shaft installation set a one-day record of hits for my blog - 4,108. The previous record was 3,002 on March 12 this year. By the way my blog hit its monthly high in March with more than 50,000 hits.

P.S. On the road to Three Mile Bay through Tuesday, so, dear reader, there will be no new posts until Wednesday Sept. 5.



August 29, 2007


Christine Heller, who used to work out of a Pittsfield storefront, has installed a unsettling anti-war piece in a four-story elevator shaft in Hudson, N.Y.

"You're either brilliant or a madwoman," I told her at the opening. "Maybe both."

This thing she's done at the John Davis Gallery, 362 1/2 Warren Street, is horrible in the horrific sense of the word. It's difficult to look at and difficult not to look at. You might want to dismiss it as a bunch of rags hung out to dry. I tried that but it didn't work.

I mean look at this thing. The elevator shaft is open so you can look at it from all four floors. And from each it reveals itself in a different way, whether you are looking straight on or you stick your head in and look up or down.

Christine sees elements of "yearning, reaching for help, and struggle, combined with complete collapse and despair."

I drove down to Hudson Monday afternoon to take a second look and to take these photos. Then Christine and I had an early supper and talked about this thing. She was fresh and alert despite having driven over six hours from Maryland where she had delivered her daughter to Gaucher College last weekend. After supper she had another two hours behind the wheel to hit home in Cooperstown, New York.

She calls the installation Mission Accomplished after the banner hung on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln four years ago. It was put up to celebrate Bush's visit to the ship. Within hours Bush declared that major military action in Iraq was over - an ill timed declaration of victory in a war America would never have undertaken if it hadn't been for Bush & Co.

These rags, sometimes taking human shapes, represent souls of the American and Iraqi troops and civilians killed in the war. Christine has been furious about the deaths, with a special concern about the children, for a long time and has been crafting angry installations about the war for several years. This show is the most telling. If you want to take a look, it is up through September 9. The gallery is open from 10 to 5:30 Thursdays to Mondays.


This shot was taken from the second floor looking down. From this angle it's all despair.


August 27, 2007


This is Babbie on our wedding day. She's eating the cherry from her cocktail. We didn't have a professional photographer. This one was taken by her beloved Uncle Tilley.

I forgot how slender her waist was. It was so slender you'd have thought we were still in the era of the cinched waist. But we weren't. About her hair, she said last night that "it was the age of pin curls."

The shot of me was taken by my father. What can I say about my hair? It was a buzz cut. Babbie was next to me and we were in the back seat of the limo that would take us to Tappan Hill for the reception. Babbie and I had a fine time on that ride. The worst was over. We felt great. We talked with the driver, who was a nice guy.

I don't remember much about the reception. After we left to spend our night at the Motel on the Mountain as we headed for Gettysburg and Washington, D.C., there was a good party at her house. Everyone said it was too bad we missed it.

Added to the shots in the last post, these give us some more potential material for Monk's Memorial.



August 25, 2007


Bob and I've been talking about a memorial to Monk. Bob came up with the idea. Monk was our roommate at Brown. I think it's fair to say we loved him, if guys can say that without suggesting they were in love.

The memorial will be a painting. We'll try to get Bob and Sue and Babbie and me in it too. That's a lot of likenesses. Don't know if I can pull it off.

Below we've got Bob and Sue toasting each other at their wedding. The picture of Monk was taken then, too. You can tell I've been messing around with the photos, looking for ideas.

Monk died a few years back at a time when we had all fallen out of touch. And we regretted that. I think that's what put Bob and me back in contact. Monk was a special guy.

















August 23, 2007


Here's another Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man. This is a detail from a shot of me with one of my largest paintings, Of Time and the River. It is 76.5" x 84". The photo was taken by Dr. Bob Tabakin .

If you look closely you can see the burnt matches I embedded in the paint of this picture I did this year. I ignited the matches while they were in wet paint and let them burn until I got the effect I wanted. You can see how this approach singed the canvas.

At first I was going to use the matches to form the hieroglyphics I'd been using in this series of paintings on the Dresden firebombing. I couldn't get the fluid lines I wanted with the matches.

So of course I turned to red paint - in this case enamel - never content with subtle coloring.

I also thought of embedding unstruck matches. I can't remember if I did or not. I do remember being worried about whether they might catch fire accidentally and start a serious fire.

If you want to see a full shot of the painting, you can hit the Dresden icon at the top left on this page. It was painted over a large portrait I'd done in 1998 and worked on again more recently.



August 21, 2007


My granddaughter, , 7, and her six-year-old cousin visited my late, lamented Lenox Library show last week. They're something, aren't they?

That's the bottom of the banner I hung outside the library. They spent most of their time doing handstands and cartwheels on the lawn outside the library. But they did check out all the paintings and told me which

ones they liked best. Two of the paintings in the Scarlet Letter Wall were done by my granddaughter..

Neither of  her's 's sold. "I'm sort of glad they didn't, Grier" she told me. Yes, my granddaughter calls me Grier and has been for years. I like it.




August 19, 2007


Dr. Robert Tabacin took this photo on the last day of my show. He is working on a documentary on the Scarlet Letter Wall. That's why I have the tape recorder in my hand.

Eight of the 19 Scarlet Letter paintings I sold during the show are in this stretch of the 31-foot wall that no one from the art world would take a look at. Screw 'em. (Another four sold earlier this year.)

Sold in the top row are the whaling boat on the left, the man's head caged in a heart, Robert Indiana's LOVE upside down, the head with the welding glasses and the A in the top right. Next row it's the head of the Greek Athlete and the spray-painted A on the bed of nails next to it. And in the third row its the purple painting with the burning bush leaves, the one behind my left elbow.

I'm wearing my Jackson Pollack T-shirt commemorating the amazing Pollack show the Museum of Modern Art staged in 1999. Babbie and I went. Pollack had long been my favorite painter. But I think until then I had only seen pictures of his work. The symbol on the front of the T-shirt is one of his trademark drips. Bob Tabacin, by the way, is my shrink.



August 17, 2007


On the last day of my show, within 20 minutes of closing time, this painting was sold. Called Remembrance of Things Past, it is 51 x 40 and is oil on canvas.

Of the Dresden Firebombing paintings, this one drew the most response. It almost sold to a woman from Connecticut but she did not follow through. Several others said they would have bought it if they had room.

So as much as I hated to see the show come down, this development ended the thing on an up beat.

Yesterday Babbie and I trucked all the large paintings and the 3-D paintings to the house and unloaded them. Tomorrow we go back and get the rest. As we unloaded the dark dark red painting at the top I noticed that it had a title on it "Naked Red" 2001. I can't remember that painting that now lies underneath this memorial to the bombing.

Maybe someday hundreds of years from now, when I'm famous, some museum will do an X-ray and solve the mystery of what lies beneath.



August 15, 2007


A is for Adultery, our Oct. 5 extravaganza, raised $1,400 for the Lenox Library. Lisa Berkel, the development director, gave me the good news yesterday.

The benefit, written and staged by Juliane Hiam Scribner, took in $1,710 in ticket sales and gifts. Expenses for an Eagle ad and refreshments subtracted $306 from that amount, leaving the library with $1,404.

Actors Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Jeff Kent, Karen Lee and Patrick Bonavitacola and singer-songwriters Bernice Lewis and Tony Lee Thomas all donated their talents. Juliane recruited that all-star cast for the performance. I recruited Juliane.

I was amazed at the quality of their performances, although with the performers we had I should have known it would be riveting. Juliane and I are extremely grateful to them for their willingness to give so freely of themselves for a good cause.

Another person paved the way financially for the summer of the Scarlet Letter. That was Robert Gersky who initiated the show by telling me he wanted to see my Scarlet Letter paintings shown as a group. His foundation, the Sue A. and Robert H. Gersky Foundation, provided the financial support that made the 21/2-month show possible. His hope was that someone would buy the entire wall, preserving the 104 paintings as one 31-foot long entity. While that didn't happen, the paintings attracted a lot of attention.

More good news - at least for me. I sold two more paintings from the Scarlet Letter Wall yesterday. They are the two shown in this post. That brings the total to 20. (Or is it 21?)

This is the show's last day. So if you haven't seen it yet, come down to the library today. It's open from 10 to 5. And I'll be there from 1 to 4.

Tomorrow and Friday Babbie and I will dismantle the wall and take down the six large Dresden Firebombing paintings shown in conjunction with it.

We've rented a truck to haul them back to Pittsfield. Even after subtracting the paintings we sold, we have 90 paintings to squeeze back into our house. A magic wand would help.






August 13, 2007


These are two of the 18 - or is it 19 - paintings that have been sold from the Scarlet Letter Wall at the Lenox Library.

The Scarlet A was purchased the night of the extravaganza by a man from California who was visiting his mother. Earlier, his mother bought this one showing a heart patched with Band-Aid. A Lanesborough woman bought the A formed of nails shown below.

All this leaves 86 to go. Not to mention the six Dresden Firebombing paintings at the library and four more in the house. Buy some. You'd make a lifelong friend of my wife by helping solve a pressing problem in our house. Storage space.

We are like the old woman who lived in a shoe She had so many children she didn't know what to do. With us its paintings. We're drowning in them.

There are a couple dozen, 10 or so thick, leaning against the long wall of one bedroom. As close as I can count, there are 127 paintings in my studio in the cellar. Dozens - unstretched - are rolled and stored between the ceiling joists. Still more are in boxes or propped against the walls.

Another eight hang in the house, which also has pieces by eight other artists and nine family photos on the walls. So hanging more up isn't a storage option. To ease the problem I have been painting over old paintings to conserve space. In the last year 11 paintings were lost to that practice. No great loss to the world. But I think a lot of the remaining stuff is pretty decent. I don't want to keep up this disappearing act.

And the show that started June 1 will end this coming Wednesday. That will be it's last day. On Thursday and Friday Babbie and I are going to be carting more than 90 paintings home in a van and a rented truck. We're in big trouble.

I'll make my last stand at the library on Wednesday from 1 to 4 if you want to come and look them over. The show is in the Welles Gallery off the main Reading Room. If you've read this far, my Division of Shameless Commerce thanks you.



August 11, 2007


"My jewels. Somebody stole my jewels. My diamond tierra, my diamond necklace, my diamond bracelets, my diamond earrings, my diamond rings. They've had the lot. My room has been ransacked," my granddaughter wailed, with comic alarm in her voice.

She was the Duchess in a kids' play at the Berkshire Museum yesterday. Then in a loud, sure voice she sang, to the tune of My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, "My diamonds are over the ocean. My diamonds are over the sea. My diamonds are pinched from my bedroom. Oh, bring back my diamonds to me."

At that point the whole cast joins in on the chorus. "Bring back, bring back, oh, bring back my jewels to me, to me."

To her grandfather it was the highlight of the show. She has always had flair and now, at 7, she's able to project it on stage.

As thrilled as we were with her performance, she was thrilled to get the part. "It's the one I wanted. I tried out for it and I got it," she told Babbie and me a few days into the one-week drama camp at the museum.

Some of you art aficionados may recognize the picture she's posing in front of. It's Gregory Crewdson's photo of North Street, Pittsfield, which he made it possible for the museum to acquire.

She wore a hat that we had given Shannon for Christmas one year. Shannon had picked up the dress at a tag sale. Riley wore a purple t-shirt under it because Friday, believe it or not, was cold. We even had a fire last night and I covered myself with a blanket as we watched The Holiday on the DVD. Just like a late fall evening.

By the way, that's Jennifer Jason Leigh in the passenger seat of the car in Crewdson's photo. (See my January 9 post for a more accurate view of Crewdson's production. Because of bad lighting, I had to use the flash. That left a glaring white circle and I had to use my Photo Studio softwear to take it out. You probably won't have any trouble spotting the repaired area. My version makes it look like a night screen, which it was not.)





August 9, 2007


You think that just because I'm a street fighter I don't like dolls? Dolls are OK. Just don't try to go too far with that. You know what I mean?

These are my granddaughtersdolls, from the left, Kerry, Lucy and Crissy. Crissy and Kerry used to be her mother's. Shannon is 45. So I'd guess this crew is about 40. They're aging well, don't you think?

Crissy and Kerry have a magic knob on their backs. You turn it and the long hair retracts into a hole in the head. Then if you push the belly button and pull their hair at the same time, it gets long again. All the way down to the knees. Don't mess with Lucy's hair. It doesn't retract.

Shannon loved these dolls which are wearing outfits Babbie made. Now her daughter loves them. That is not to say they are always treated lovingly. They take their knocks.

In the picture on the left Lucy is doing a headstand, aided by Crissy. In an instance they'll all fall. Meanwhile, see what I mean about the magic button? Kerry's hair has been pulled out to its full length. It's a tribute to the Ideal Toy Corp. that after all these years the mechanism still works. Too bad Ideal didn't last as long. In 1982, the company was sold to CBS Toy Company, which itself closed down.

The photos were taking during an antic evening of doll activity at our house while Shannon and Paul saw a play.


August 7, 2007


Sunday night was the night of the extravaganza. And what a lovely show it was.

At 5 o'clock Elizabeth Aspenlieder finished her afternoon performance of Rough Crossing, in which she's starring this summer for Shakespeare & Co. A little over two hours later she was on the library's small stage starred in our show, A is for Adultery.

In the process she switched gears from comedienne to dramatic lead. First she was Hawthorne's wife, competing with Melville for top billing in her husband's heart. Later in the evening she was the neglected wife of a symphony conductor. Watching the professional command she exercised in bringing life to her roles, even in a reading, is impressive. She shed real tears during this performance, as she had in the rehearsal.

Appearing with her were Jeff Kent, a man with a million dollar voice and a mobile face. First he became Hawthorne and then the composer. Patrick Bonavitacola, a young man performing in his home town, was perfectly cast as Elizabeth's pending love interest in The Genius and the Goddess.

Karen Lee kept the audience in stitches as a woman voicing second thoughts as she walks down the aisle to be married. Dressed in dark jeans, one of my black Scarlet Letter t-shirts and a red train, she marched to "Here comes the bride, all dressed in white." She was achingly funny.

Tony Lee Thomas song both heart felt and full-tilt tunes of his own creation. He was magnetizing as he introduced a song, Southern Girl, about his love of a young woman he met while he was in the service. Her family disapproved of him because he was black and that ended it. Because he had hurt his wrist, Tony could not accompany himself on guitar. So he brought in his band member, bassist Jason Maley, who saved the day, playing guitar with spirit and finesse.

In her set Bernice Lewis, who teaches at Williams College, demonstrated why she enjoys a solid fan base. She had the whole place singing along with her in one song - not the muted audience voice you often hear - but full voiced participation. She was affecting and funny, by turns, both in her songs and between-song patter.

Juliane Hiam Scribner, from the balcony of the high ceilinged reading room, offered a funny, ironic poem, "Be a Good Girl." It was about the expectations society places on women from the cradle to the grave.

It was Juliane's second comic turn of the evening. She had also written Karen Lee's monologue. She had also written A Tanglewood Tale that the scene about the Hawthornes was taken from. On top of all that she had written the stage adaptation from Aldous Huxley's novel The Genius and the Goddess. Beyond that, she had recruited the actors and the vocalists and been the director.

If this was football, she would not only be the quarterback but the coach and safety. She is 32, stunning and has four kids.

So what did I do? My main contribution was recruiting Juliane. And I did the Scarlet Letter Wall, the 31-foot-long piece inspired by Hawthorne's novel that was the reason there was this special event.

I have to get an official count of the audience, but I would guess 80 people were there. That lovely reading room was almost sold out. Not bad considering that The Berkshire Eagle, the dominant newspaper, had inexplicably failed to use out press release - even though two editors said it would get good play. Given the editorial shaft, we took out a small ad for $173.80 that ran in the paper the day before the show.

At the library end of things, we got a lot of help from Denis Lesieur, the executive director, and Lisa Berkel, the development director. And my wife Babbie produced the refreshments, with the help of our daughter Shannon. There was also beer and wine.

It was a benefit for the library. The performers all worked without pay. I'll have to let you know how much was raised after that's tallied. All in all I thought it was a great evening.

P.S. The photo is not from Sunday's reception. In the rush to set up, I had figured I wouldn't have time to take pictures and left my camera home. As a result I didn't have a shot to go with this blog. So I used one of the many that Barney Edmonds had taken at the opening reception for my show back in early June. The woman in black standing in front of one of my paintings is Babbie. Next to her are Rose Lanigan, our neighbor, and Jeorg Haeberli, our brother in law. The second photo, also by Barney, is of my friends Colleen Quinn, an artist, on the right, and the red headed Marita Carroll, who did my web page and blog, and Marita's sister.



August 4, 2007


These are the singers. Bernice Lewis and Tony Lee Thomas. She's a pro with six CD's to her credit. He's an up and comer who released his first last year.

Each is a strategic piece of our extravaganza, A is for Adultery, at the Lenox Library tomorrow evening(Sunday) at 7. This show has great talent - all of them donating their efforts to the cause. Between the singing, the dramatic readings, the wine and beer reception this thing should be a knockout.

If you're not familiar with these singer-songwriters' work, you can sample their music at cdbaby, a web record shop that specializes in independent music. For Bernice hit and for Tony it's If you listen you'll want to come tomorrow night.

Bernice teaches songwriting at Williams College and The Berkshire Eagle has called her “ of the Berkshires most valuable natural resources...” The Albuquerque Journal has praised her "lake-clear voice and satisfying mix of heartfelt and humorous

"Tony Lee Thomas’s CD Supernova is played in the forefront of my household daily. A true work of art," says Annie Guthrie of Rising Son Records.

You might also enjoy exploring their web pages. and

Tickets are $25. You can pay at the door but the library has limited seating and to be safe you can buy them by calling the library from 10 to 5 today at 413-636-2630 ext. 121. See you Sunday.



August 3, 2007



This is Elizabeth Aspenlieder, a mainstay of Shakespeare & Co., which she also serves as publicity director. She is starring in our extravaganza Sunday night.

Elizabeth will appear both as Sophia Hawthorne in A Tanglewood Tale and as the disaffected goddess in Aldous Huxley's "The Genius and the Goddess."

In 11 years with Shakespeare & Co. She has played innumerable parts and become a favorite of Berkshire audiences.

Also on board are Jeffrey Kent, left, another highly respected Berkshire actor; Karen Lee, who appeared in the August 1 post, and Patrick J. Bonavitacola, bottom. He is a recent Williams College grad and an aspiring novelist.

Kent will read the role of Nathaniel Hawthorne in A Tanglewood Tale. Kent and Bonavitacola will join Aspenlieder in "The Genius and the Goddess." Because the genius argues that what passes as love is really lust, his wife throws herself at his protege, played by Bonavitacola.

The show, a benefit for the Lenox Library, will be presented at the library this Sunday at 7 p.m. Saturday we'll take a look at the singers in the production.





August 1, 2007


This is Juliane Hiam Scribner, the driving force behind the extravaganza coming up at the Lenox Library this Sunday evening.

My biggest role in this production, besides painting the Scarlet Letter Wall, was recruiting Juliane. She took it from there, writing material, enlisting actors and singers to donate their talents to benefit the library. One of the pros in the crew is Karen Lee. This is the way Juliane described her on her website, "My fabulous firecracker red curly-haired dynamo friend." In a few words you learn something about both of them. Karen is at the right, straddling Michael Burnet, in the Shakespeare's 2006 production of "The Servant of Two Masters."

Juliane wrote and directed the feature film Dead Silence that starred Danny Aiello, Sally Kirkland, Maureen Stapleton and Shanee Edwards. Now 32, Juliane made the film when she was 21.

Subsequently, she had her first play, "A Tanglewood Tale," produced in 2001 by Shakespeare and Company. It was given 21 performances there. On Sunday you will witness a reading of a scene from the play with Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Jeffrey Kent. It ties in with the Scarlet Letter because it's about the intense friendship of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville.

But Juliane is best known in the Berkshires as the writer of the column Jacuzzi that used to run in The Eagle, which finally dropped it because it was "a family newspaper." The column was too hot to handle. People loved it or hated it. And I'd often be surprised by who lined up on which side of the divide. I was one of the fans. I met Juliane this year. She says she isn't Jacuzzi in real life. Jacuzzi's her alter ego.

P.S. The photo of Juliane was taken by Gregory Crewdson, who is an art world star. I had the audacity to crop it for this column. Juliane serves as his casting director - his photos are like Hollywood productions - and not too long ago when she was very pregnant with her fourth child, he asked her to pose nude in one of his shots.

This is some of what she wrote about the experience in bimbopolitics:

"I was to be standing in an overgrown debris-strewn backyard, gazing down at the ground, (possibly thinking about the lyrics to Madonna's song “Papa Don't Preach,”) while across the street, a young teenage couple sat on a ramshackle porch (either contemplating their future, the nature of war, or the fact that Justin should've won American Idol Season One.)

"So the big day came (and just to let you know HOW pregnant I was, I was precisely two days shy of my due date.) As per instructions from Cosi, I did not wash my hair for three days before so I would look more . . . in character. And I did feel sufficiently greasy, but apparently not greasy enough because my session in “hair and make-up” consisted of a having sun block rubbed into my hair. I made way to my position, flung off my huge tent-like red bathrobe, and sheepishly looked around for mouths to start dropping."








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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