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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

Dec. 29, 2006

Convergence, 76.5" x 84", Oil on Canvas, 1998.

I always liked this painting. I don't think anyone else did. Anyway it's gone now, painted over as part of the Dresden Firebombing series.

I'm still working on the new one. The old one, I did in 1998, my breakthrough year. I'd been painting for three years and I was starting to catch on. People began looking like people in some of my paintings. This one, mounted on the largest stretcher I ever built, is of Sue Sheila.

She was the model in a figure painting class I was taking at Berkshire Community College. I was 63 and had been retired for a year. I would guess Sue sheila was in her early 40s and was a fantastic model and a very nice woman. She and her husband had moved here with Kripalu when it relocated to Lenox. At that time Kripalu was what I would call a New Age spiritual group.

One day she showed up at class with a black eye and a cut on her nose. After class I asked her what had happened. Several days earlier, on the anniversary of her husband's death, she was reaching for a vase on the top shelf in a cabinet and it fell and hit her. It was the latest of a series of occurrences on that anniversary. In another year, while surfing, she wiped out and the board hit her in the head. I think it fractured her skull. She let me photograph her and lent me pictures of herself and her husband when they were young. I combined it all and came up with this.


Dec. 27, 2006

Every Christmas Eve we have a party and this year was no exception. This year the feast brought together 12 of us. And everyone seemed to have a great time.

Wine flowed. So did conversation and laughter. The characters in this drama, clockwise from lower left are Riley, Kellie, Jeff, John, Shannon, Babbie, Julie, Paul, Blanche and Grier. The hand you see at the lower right is Mike's. Unseen, and taking the shot, is Eric. Jeff and Blanche used to live in the neighborhood and Kellie is his wife, as well as an assistant DA. Julie and Babbie are Riley's grandmothers. Shannon and Paul are Riley's parents. John is her uncle. Eric is our son and Mike is Eric's friend and ours. Got it? Our third child, Michael, lives in Louisiana and couldn't make it.(On the wall at the left is a Leonard Baskin print of Red Cloud.)

The table is a production. It's base is the living room sofa and that is a substantial piece of furniture. It weighs a ton. First Babbie and I using a hand truck to lift the peice insert 2 x 4s under it. They're the rails we use to slide it out into the middle of the room. We boost the height by slipping 4 x 4s under the base. Then we haul up some plywood from my studio, where it spends the year flat on the floor, put it over the sofa, and screw the plywood into a couple 2 x 4s and Voila.

Babbie and I got the sofa from a New Age clothing shop in Shelburn Falls. Babbie likes their neo-hippie stuff. She got her tie-died mother-of-the-groom dress there for Eric's wedding. The marriage didn't last long but she still has the dress. Anyway, Babbie told the owner she loved the sofa. One thing lead to another and it was ours.

The sofa has some history. The owner is a trans-channeler. Her clients would lie on this sofa and she'd help them discover who they were in past lives. We've had it for years now. On rainy days you can still smell the incense. The owner said she and her husband had had some good times on that sofa. We upheld that end of the tradition.


Dec, 24, 2006

Babbie and I took a long time to pick the right tree up at the hillside farm which operates on the honor system. You cut the tree, you leave the money in the box.

But this time the farmer was there with his chain saw, trimming the trunks left behind by his customers. So after we had checked out a host of pines in the field with its view of the mountains across the valley, he cut the chosen one. He's a toolmaker who farms his 50 acres on the side. Taxes on the property, he said, keep going up and its getting harder to hang on.

We bound the tree with ropes, compressing its girth like attendants cinching a lady's corset. But still it was so full we could barely push it into the van. We got it up Thursday. The trunk fit into the stand from Babbie's house. We've had years when we had to whittle it down to get it in. I think the stand may be as old as we are. It too is showing signs of age but it's still does the job.

Riley had a half day of school Friday and after the three of us had lunch with Nancy at Applebee's, Riley helped us decorate the tree. Riley and Babbie strung the garlands along the branches and I strung the lights. Then we played Pokino and acted out Into the Woods, the musical we had taken Riley to see at Williams College a few weeks ago. She remembered everything about it. We didn't, so she had to do a lot of directing.

Babbie and I finished the tree late Saturday afternoon. The faces in the background are of my mother, left, and Linda Baker-Cimini.

Merry Christmas.

Dec. 22, 2006

Last Light, Acrylic on Canvas. Taller than I am and pretty wide too.

The woods starts across the street from my house. There are hundreds of acres of trees. There are streams, ridges, the big opening that used to be the piggery where the hogs ate Pittsfield's garbage. There are trails, some of them so badly gouged by ATVs they are no longer usable. You can get so deep into this woods that you can't hear a sound of civilization.

I used to walk in the woods almost every day with my dog Max, who died two years ago. But I hardly go out there anymore. Not because Max died, although it was much more fun when he was along for company and protection.

No the problem was that about four years ago Max and I encountered a bear in the woods. At that moment, my love of the woods died. I only really liked the woods in winter, when you can see the sky.

But today for some reason I decided to walk through the woods up to what I call the "beautiful field." Getting there wasn't that easy. A housing project is being built at the western edge of the woods not far from our house. And the contractor has cut down the trees there so his part of the woods is no longer a woods. In the process the tail Max and I used every day disappears for about 200 yards and is hard to pick up again.

There is no snow on the ground. It isn't even very cold. The woods, when the leaves are gone is very beautiful. There are the soft grays, the whites of the birches, the sudden startling greens of moss on decaying logs.

Or as my friend Leslie put it on her blog (see links) recently:

"Moss glows like forest roses choked with vivid, raging green abloom in the quiet, gray woods."

In our woods gnarled fruit trees of some kind fight for life. It must have been an orchard a long time ago. They are very old and tenacious, bent and tangled. One fall, I sketched and then painted a few trees. The one at the top of this entry is an example. I couldn't find the tree yesterday. Maybe it was one that was lost to the bulldozers. I did find the deer stand 20 feet up in a tree just off the trail. And I found the new trail that two guys laboriously carved out 10 years ago when the old one eroded into an unusable gorge, thanks to the ATVs.

As always , the field was beautiful. Every time I go there I wish I owned it and could build a low-lying looking over the long line of mountains.

On the way back I used the old trail, the one that was so bad the guys cut the new one. Except for the deep gouge in its lower end, it's pretty good again now that it isn't getting much use. I came across the wolf tree with its multiple trunks and found another landmark, the swollen growth on the treetrunk that looks like a baboon's backside. I think they're called bowls - the growth not the backside.


Dec. 19, 2006

Firebird over Dresden, 82"x32.5"

This is the sixth Dresden painting and the last I'll be able to show you for a while. I've just started No. 7, which is going to be a project because it's very large.

This is the only painting in the series where I had no idea what the picture was going to be when I started it. Normally I don't do that. And it is the only one that isn't painted over an old painting. I had this stretcher hanging around in the studio for about a year. Debbie Smith, an artist, had told me it had been left behind by an artist who left her studio complex and didn't want it. It was one of three I picked up there.

I was so intrigued with the wrinkles in Map of Dresden (see the November archive) that I decided to use the technique that had produced the wrinkles and see what they would suggest. I put down a heavy layer of gesso. (Utrecht makes a thick gesso I use for this. The gold gesso I love is David Smith.) While it was still wet I covered the canvas with a sheet of paper. Wrinkles and creases popped up all over the place. To me the wrinkles provided the outline for either a bird or a figure. Obviously, I decided on the bird. And in keeping with the theme turned it into a firebird.

This one is acrylic. And, I just noticed, its the first in the series where I didn't use any hieroglyphics.

Dec. 17, 2006

80"x46", Acrylic, Oil, Pastel on Collaged Canvas

I think I'll call this "Angel of Incineration, Another Guise." Or "Angel of Incineration (Bomb Rider)" Maybe these are too smart ass for a painting about such a tragedy. I'll think about it. This is the first acrylic in the Dresden Firebombing series. And it is the fifth painting.

Like all the others so far, this one was painted over one of my old paintings. I had a harder time doing that to this one than with any of the others. It was a large portrait of Anita McFarland. This was the top panel of the portrait, which was in two panels. The only surface in that portrait not repainted was the section of her face inside the cross. The portrait, Big Red, was done in pastel, overworked by oil pastel and then coated with Dammar varnish several times. The paper portrait was cut out and gessoed to canvas, which in turn was cut out and gessoed to a stretched canvas. It is a process that accounted for the wrinkling you see on the surface in the middle-right section of the painting.

The technique was one I used on a number of portraits. The bomb was sketched on raw canvas, cut out and gessoed to the portrait. I dripped on the hieroglyphics with a paint-loaded wooden stirrer. The bottom panel of the same portrait, basically her shoulders and breasts, formed the underpinning for the second painting in the series, the Map of Dresden. That one is filed in the November archive.

I struggled with the idea of incorporating a portion of her face in the picture. It seemed jarring and out of character with the others in the series. But ultimately I left it in. The angel of incineration was introduced in the painting I showed in the Dec. 15 post.

What about the frame on this one? I know, I never use frames. But this isn't a real one. It's just painted on.



Dec. 15, 2006

Angel of Incineration, 69"x48", Oil on Collaged Canvas

This is the Angel of Incineration, the fourth in the Dresden Firebombing series. I've been hesitating posting it on the blog. I wasn't sure I liked it. But it looks pretty good. We'll see how it weather's in.

The angel comes from a reflection cast on the wall by the chrome faucet in the downstairs bathroom. I've been wanting to do something with that reflection for a long time. The real one, however, would take a lot wider canvas, because the top half of the wings fork out dramatically.

I drew the modified reflection on the canvas and cut the wings out and gessoed them to the canvas and added the hieroglyphics. This was another painted over picture. I've got to start keeping a record of what is under what painting. I can't remember what I had here. So I guess it was no great loss. Now I remember what it was - a pipe organ-looking thing on a Horner-method grid. At first I had the tops of the pipes peering out from the flames. But then I took this approach.

I got the idea of an angel of incineration while I was shaving one morning and thinking about what would come next in the series. The reflection got me going. That fed into my perception that God is on our side when we're at war. Of course the other side believes the same thing. So it seemed fitting that there would be an angel in God's arsenal responsible for burning children, women and old men.


Dec. 13, 2006

This is our house and the birch in the side yard that we've been lighting this way for years at Christmas. Seeing this as I drive up the hill is one of the things I like best about the holiday.

We had a little snow on the ground for two days but it melted. I expect we'll get more in time for Christmas. The wreath, washed out in this shot, is an annual gift from my sister Britt and her husband Ed. The green object in front of the wreath is our bird feeder. Our most frequent visitors are Chickadees. But the squirrels and a bear or two have also dined there.

This is a squirrel-proof bird feeder made in Massachusetts. Nevertheless, every winter there is at least one squirrel who figures out how to defeat the mechanism that seals the seeds off when any real weight is put on the perch.

I watch that squirrel sitting on a branch studying the feeder, mathematical equations and formulas flashing through his brain. Then he'll give it a try, shinnying down the wire to the feeder's pitched roof, and hanging by his rear legs and tail until his head is even with the feed bins. He sticks a paw in and pulls out sunflower seeds one at a time and has his lunch upside down. He will eventually lose his grip or slip and fall to the grass. But he'll be back. Even though I pour some seeds on the ground beneath the feeder, this squirrel is one who enjoys the challenge.

Watching makes me think of my freshman psychology class at Brown. The professor was an old man with cheeks that looked like they were stuffed with cotton. He was a gentle, thoughtful man who smoked a pipe and had an assistant professor he called Rosie or Posie, I think.

There we learned about Pavlovian responses and how animals didn't think things through but did things through conditioned responses. I don't know what the current theory is. But all I have to do is watch the squirrel and I see a brain at work, a brain housed in the body of an acrobat.

Inevitably, watching squirrels reminds me of the running battle my mother had with these scavengers in our back yard in Tarrytown. Milton Gladstone, our next door neighbor, told my mother to call him next time she had a problem with them. This was not long after World War II and Milton still had his Army carbine.

My mother called him one afternoon. He showed up, hoisted the gun to his shoulder and started firing. He missed the squirrel but bullets were flying and someone called the cops. When my mother heard the sirens she went in the house, leaving Milton standing in the back yard with the smoking gun. The police, thinking they had another GI gone berserk, took him to the station. Everything got straightened out. But my father loved to tell the story. And so do I.


Dec. 12, 2006

Tramp Steamer, Detail, 18x14", mixed media, 2006

Is it cheating to use a picture of a painting that I've shown before? Well, I stumbled across it the other day and I liked the copper so much I decided to cheat.

This little ship is part of my Scarlet Letter series, a group of 120 or 140 paintings that I did over the last two years and that I hope to show as a whole at some point. A friend is working on that. We'll see what comes of it. Another friend, Linda Baker-Cimini, dubbed it the Love Boat.

What's this little Love Boat got to do with Nathaniel Hawthorne's book? Well, that's an adulterous heart being lowered into the hold. Or is it being unloaded? Anyway, it's one of two boats and a raft that I made in connection with the series. Boats come into it because Hawthorne was a good friend of Herman Melville's and Melville wrote a lot about boats. So I'm throwing in the other copper boat, decked out with a heart and, in the bow, a harpoon.

Herman Melville lived in Pittsfield - where I live - and Hawthorne lived down the road in Lenox. Melville wrote Moby Dick here and Hawthorne wrote the House of Seven Gables in Lenox. This was in the early 1850s.

I had a good time putting the boats together, cutting the pieces out of sheet copper and riveting them together. The mast and boom are cut from orange plastic rods. The lights are paint-encrusted push pins I had used to tack canvases to the wall. The blocks are clay.

Instead of riveting the heart - and hearts if anything are riveting, so I missed the symbolic boat there - I bound the sides to the front and back with strips of copper. They curl naturally when you snip a narrow-gauge strip from the sheet. The mast is attached the same way. I dabbed some oil paint on the copper hull, cabin, heart and spars.

I've got to start showing you the Dresden firebombing paintings again. There are three new ones. I'll photograph them and post them soon. I didn't have time yesterday because I'm installing a hatch so we can get into the attic. Like most home projects, it's turning out to be a lot more work than I imagined.

The hatch is replacing a hole that the firemen had to poke in the ceiling to make sure there was no fire up there when we had a chimney fire last Spring. Babbie had just told me we should really think about getting the chimney swept because it had been years since it was cleaned. And I had just told her there wasn't any danger. So I lit the match, my fire blazed, and in a few minutes the chimney was roaring and belching smoke. That's when I dialed 911.


Dec. 10, 2006

Matthew Monahan, Untitled (Red Face) 1997, Oil on Paper, 99 x 100.

This giant portrait by a young California painter, Matthew Monahan, is a knockout.

"Mapped out in thick red oil paint, Matthew Monahan’s Red Face is alluring and ominous," according to the Saatchi Gallery in London, where it is currently being shown."Delineating his form through heavy-handed contours, colour bleeds and spills like surgically exposed sinew or ritual dissection," the gallery continues. "Alluding to tattoos, diagrams, tribal face painting, and geological strata’s, Monahan’s Red Face looms larger than life, tempting with the voodoo seduction of the unknown."

Monahan is also a sculptor. He does a lot of his pieces in paper, but they end up looking like metal. This one, which is shown on a double plinth of drywall is called Tarted Up For the Lions.

Monahan is one of a number of young artists included in a Saatchi show called Artists in USA Today. Barring reincarnation, a young American artist is something I'm never going to be. If I was rich and the Concorde was still flying, I'd hop the plane and see the show, and all the other stuff in London.

To take a look at the work at Saatchi for a little less money, try the link at the bottom of this page.


Dec. 7, 2006

The Clary sisters in 1956. From left, Cookie, Babbie and Carol. In photos below the order is Babbie, Cookie and Carol.

We came across this old photo recently. I think the term bathing beauties is appropriate. This was probably Jones Beach on Long Island. They lived in Tarrytown, N. Y. at the time and their father , Phil, would drive us all to Jones Beech in his Ford station wagon.

We'd get back with bad sunburns and a lot of good memories. I don't think Babbie's parents ever quite approved of me. But I spent a lot of time at their house. The girls' mother, Elaine - who Phil called Babe- , died when she was only 54. A year later her ashes were still in ashes were still in the trunk of Phil's car. Phil worked in his father's stone-yard in the Bronx but was a frustrated chef.

In his later years after Elaine's death he ran the Snug Harbor Motel in Hyannis. He became a friend of Jack Kerouac. Kerouac called him Philippe the Chef. When Kerouac's mother fell and broke her hip, he called Phil in the middle of the night to ask him what to do. They got her to the hospital.

Once Kerouac sent Phil a postcard from France. He wrote, "Up your ass with Mobil Gas." One of my kids, Mike, is a novelist and I wanted to give it to him. But somehow we managed to lose it. Maybe it will show up one of these days.Once Kerouac wrote down who all the characters in On the Road were in real life to help Phil get into it. But I don't think he ever read it. Phil lived 30 years longer than Babbie's mother.

I haven't told you anything about the sisters, just tidbits about their father.

David Bates, who married Cookie, wants to see his name in this blog. So there it is. You couldn't have imagined what a thrill it would be, could you Dave. Dave and Cookie live a nomadic life. It's her idea to prune the unessential out of their life. They spend eight or nine months of the year at their cottage on the shores of Lake Ontario in the village of Three Mile Bay. The rest of the year they rent in Myrtle Beach and in Connecticut, to be near their kids, Darol and Peter, and their three grand children.

Carol married Joerg Haberli, a Swiss chemist, who she met at Brown. Their first child, Maya, died when she was six, a shattering event in their lives. Their sons, Eric and Peter, live in San Francisco. They have one grandchild and another on the way. Carol lives in an 1760 cottage on the Cape. She has lovely gardens and is slowly restoring the house. "Very slowly," she says. "I don't think I'll ever get it finished."

Babbie was an intensive care nurse at Berkshire Medical Center until retiring almost two years ago, a 40-year veteran of a field that burns many out. And she too is a gardner, favoring wildly crowded and colorful gardens that make our yard a delight.
After our first date - she was a junior in high school and I was a senior - I woke my parents up and told them I was going to marry her. Eight years later we were married. She has been the healing and constructive force in our family.




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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