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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

February 29, 2008


Here's your chance to win a free painting.

A friend and I are seriously considering starting an art gallery in cyber space. This is one possible entry page for our website. It utilizes these polished stainless doors taken from one of our homes. 

If you can identify whose house they come from, you win a free painting. The painting will be 18"x14" selected (by me) from my work.

To win it is not enough to say they are from my friend's house - or mine. You have to identify the owner by name.

In case there is more than one correct answer, the winner will be determined by drawing. The name of each person submitting the correct answer will be placed in a box. The winner will be drawn by my granddaughter Riley.

Email your answer, along with your thoughts about the potential entry page, to [email protected] The deadline is midnight March 3.

As they say in the New York Lottery ads, "Hey, you never know."


February 27, 2008

This is Portrait of My Mother when she was 18. I made it of overlapping Xerox enlargements of her portrait photo, a picture she always hated but that always haunted me.

The Xeroxed image is pasted to a heavy cardboard tube that I painted black. The tube is 10 inches in diameter and 83 inches high. Her picture is 32 inches high. Other images cover other sections of the tube.

My mother was sometimes dashing, sometimes bold, always humane, always trusting, always caring. But her life was haunted, especially in her later years, by a manic-depression that, at its worst, could send her into days of ecstasy that would crash into a fearful immobility.

I recently found an old wallet marked with my father's initials but, from its contents, one she had used during World War II. It contained bits and pieces of paper that may give clues to that period in her life, a period when she appeared to be having mental problems after my father was drafted.

As a result, she went to live off-base where my father was stationed in the Army Air Force and my sister Britt and I spent time living with my mother's sister in Lewiston, N. Y., our grandparents in Gettysburg, and my father's sister in a suburb of Philadelphia.

One of the tattered pieces of paper in the wallet is a letter I wrote her when I was in 4th grade in Gettysburg.

"Dear Mother, I hope you like Arizona." My father had apparently been transferred to a base in that state. Then the letter has two sentences where the penciled words are so faded  or smeared that I can't read them. It resumes: "What is it like there? Are there any cowboys too. I hope the war is over soon so you and Daddy will be home again. We are getting our report card today."

Then it went on to tell her about a game "I and some other boys" played at recess. I think it was called Red Rover. But whatever its name, it involved capturing opponents and dragging them over to a prison at your team's end of the yard, a prison marked by a circle scrawled in the asphalt with chalk. You could free a prisoner or prisoners by running through the other side's defense and tagging your teammate. I can still remember how wild and wonderful that game was and how I looked forward to recess so we could play it. I signed it "Truely yours, Grier Horner" - just in case, I guess, she didn't know which Grier it was coming from.

There's a lot of other stuff crammed into that wallet. Names, addresses, an inspirational poem, a funny poem someone wrote about her at work, the names of various hotels and rooming houses at which she apparently stayed, the name of a doctor, receipts for money sent to my grandparents to help with our expenses, etc. She died of an overdose of barbiturates when she was 57. My father died six months later.

Babbie says I was an adored child - or as she jokes, "You suffer from Adored Child Syndrom. And I was an adored child. And they were adored parents, although I often didn't show that or understand that when they were alive.



February 25, 2008


Man, I am cranking out Cathedrals. This is Cathedral (Six).   (Seven) and (Eight) are down in the studio drying. All that, and other stuff, in less than 30 days.

This one, which is a lot different than the first five, is 74"x29.5" and painted with acrylic enamels and acrylic on canvas. It's arresting. At least that's what I think.

But then I'm in a manic phase. This morning was bright and the light and shadows on the snow were dazzling and I felt like the morning all day long. If you could turn that into a drug, you'd be rich.

This Cathedral took longer than the others. At first it was just the black and gold books and the outer walls and roof of the church. I kept looking at it, staring at it. It looked too stark. So I added the Cathedral door and stained glass window. (Their colors are more alive and vibrant than they are in these photos.)

A day went by in which I continued looking and adding drips to thicken the walls. Then I threw caution to the winds and added the arched section that contains the door. I was afraid of making a mistake and ruining it. That was a couple days ago before I was feeling high. I don't think it would have scared me yesterday.

If you scroll down through February you'll find all the other Cathedrals but (One), which is January 30.


February 23, 2008

                                     By Grier Horner, 2008

Taking a break from the Cathedral Series, here's a new River Works painting.  This is of the Housatonic River as it winds through south Pittsfield toward Woods Pond in Lenox - lovely but toxic.

This painting is in acrylic enamel and acrylic on canvas. It is 42"x18" on three panels.(You can see other River Works on these dates in the blog archives: January 28,18,8,6 & 2.)

PCB's from Pittsfield's GE Large Transformer plant flowed into the Housatonic for years and contaminated it all the way to Long Island Sound - a long run. GE abandoned Pittsfield about 20 years ago, leaving the city an economic and ecological disaster zone. The community lost 20 percent of its population and a big chunk of its pride and viability. It has been staging a comeback in the last few years but still has a long way to go.

So far GE has spent more than $90 million cleaning the Superfund site and there is more to be done.


February 21, 2008

Lunar eclipse as seen at 10:50 last night in Western Massachusetts. Photo by Grier Horner

The night sky was full of drama yesterday. I was watching Michael Clayton when the earth was shadowing the moon. I was so absorbed by the movie I forgot about the lunar eclipse until about 10:45. But I still caught it. What a sight. The moon was cloaked in shades of orange and silver.

At the same time, more excitement was taking place. The U.S. Navy fired an antimissile interceptor at a dying spy satellite and hit it. At the left is an Associated Press picture of the missile firing from the Lake Erie, an Aegis-class cruiser on patrol in the Pacific.

Glad they didn't shoot the moon.

I think that the star Regulus and the planet Saturn are the other bodies you see in my shot. I guess they appear elongated because it was a long time

exposure and the camera caught their movement. If you missed it last night, there will be another total eclipse in December 2010.


February 19, 2008

This is Cathedral (Five) again, this time horizontal. Which way do you like it better: this way or the way it was intended (See February 17 post)?

It's abstract this way. Of course if I go sidearm with it, I'd have to come up with a new name. I worked on Cathedral (Five) all afternoon and two hours this evening. I'm not too happy about one of the colors I used in the drips. Have to look at it again.


February 17, 2008

Cathedral (Five), Acrylic Enamel, Gesso, 72"x32"

Here is number Five in the Cathedral series. It's the first tall skinny one. I'm using the purple-black, black and gold background as in Three (February 13 post).

Babbie asked me what the three burnished gold rectangles represent.

"I don't know," I told her.

"You're the artist, you should know."

"Ok. The Father, Son and Holy Ghost."


"That's a guess."

"Do you like those gold sections?"

That's one of those questions that's a statement of the asker's position. We got a laugh out of it. I'm not sure they should be there but I'm sort of attached to them.


February 17, 2008 (B)

Keira Knightley in Atonement , above, and Saoirse Ronan, below.

We saw Atonement last night  in North Adams. I

thought it was very moving and beautifully filmed. It hit me with the same impact as The English Patient. I guess I'm a hopeless romantic.

This is just what you need, a movie recommendation months too late. Anyway, two young women in the movie, Keira Knightley and Saoirse Ronan, were awfully good. Knightley, who starred in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, is lovely, spirited and sultry. She has been called the "sexiest tomboy beanpole."

Saoirse, playing her 13-year-old sister, is hauntingly good.


February 15, 2008

Cathedral (Three), 51"x51.5", Acrylic Enamel on canvas, 2008, by Grier Horner

Here, out of sequence, is the third painting in the Cathedral series. I had held it back because I was thinking about toning down the yellow on the right side.

My theory is that it yanks your eye to that side of the painting. I may still try to tame that color. We'll see.

Meanwhile, I've stripped an old painting off a long, narrow stretcher and stapled on a fresh canvas in preparation for Cathedral (Five). I'd made that stretcher in 2001 and when it was exposed again I thought in a way that the stretchers themselves are so beautiful that it's a shame to cover them.

A friend asked me if the yellow at the bottom of the cathedral means it is on fire. Good question. I'm not sure why I did it that way.

I did consciously paint in flame shapes in the dark section on the left. But I often do that.

Go to February 13 for Cathedral (Four), February 1 for Cathedral (Two) January 30 for Cathedral (One).


February 13, 2008

Cathedral (Four), acrylic enamel and gesso on canvas, 50"x35", 2008

This is Cathedral (Four). I did it yesterday after assembling the stretcher the day before. It feels great to knock off a painting you like in a day.

This Cathedral is 50"x36" and was painted with gold gesso and acrylic enamels. I like the purple-black background color I got by mixing red, dark blue and black. I like the ragged gold shapes on the sides of the canvas. I had planned to cover the entire canvas with the purple-black but as I got this far I stopped. I felt a power in what was on the canvas. It gave me a feeling of transcendence momentarily. Maybe that's the way the Abstract Expressionists felt on a good day. That could be addicting. After defining the shapes slightly, I turned to the drips. They are overlays of red, gold and the purple-black. Here's a detail.

The purple-black and gold portion of the canvas reminds me of a drawing my granddaughter Riley did in First Grade to illustrate her essay on Rosa Parks. I liked the boldness of the way she made the bus and the two figures and had been thinking about trying that. Yesterday it just happened. This is Riley's picture.

Rosa Parks and the Bus Driver by Riley Nichols.

P.S. I'm showing you the Cathedral paintings out of sequence. I still have some work to do on Cathedral (Three). For Cathedral (Two) go to February 1. For number one go to January 30.



February 11, 2008

Wind-driven snow pelted our windows yesterday morning. I took this shot from the living room. I like the streak of dark gray made by a branch.

So we go from the grays of Jasper Johns on February 9th to the grays of the window pane. Sort of a neat transition, n'est-ce pas? (It always makes me mad when writers use foreign phrases. This one means "isn't it?" in case you didn't take high-school French with Miss Langlois.)

Babbie and I walked up to Simons Market to get the New York Times. She slings a red knapsack on her back to carry it. It's about a mile each way and it beats carrying the paper.

In mid-afternoon when I started up the snow blower the sun was out. When I got our place done I went over to Joan's to do her drive and then gave Bob a hand with the final 30 feet of his. Suddenly the wind started blowing hard and it got dark. Snow fell hard and fast. It was like a blizzard, but it only lasted a half hour. Here's a portrait of the artist as an old man covered with snow after doing battle with the elements.

It's midnight now and the wind's still howling and the temperature us approaching zero. I was going to paint for a couple hours but I think I'll lie on the couch under a blanket and watch the fire until I fall asleep.



February 9, 2008

Jasper Johns, encaustic and collage on canvas, 60"x92", 1962, owned by Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.

In yesterday's New York Times, Roberta Smith calls the current Jasper Johns show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art "moody, opulent and eloquent." It is all that. And more. It's brilliant but it's something of a downer.

Johns, who in the late 50s and the 60s helped drive the nails in abstract expressionism's coffin, is known for his vibrant use of color, as seen in this iconic version of his paintings of the map of the United States.

This show looks at another side of his work and is appropriately titled: Jasper Johns: Gray.

Of 120 works on display, only one is in color.

As a man who was abandoned by his parents as a child, it is perhaps easy to assume that gray was a natural color for him. And he works it beautifully. It is a side of Johns I had never thought about. If you like Johns, you should see this show. It's there through May 4.

As I searched Google for various versions of Map, this morning, I came across the one below. It combines the eloquence of the gray and the punch of the color. That's a lesson I might want to take to heart. The one below is my favorite Map. Isn't it amazing how brilliantly some people can paint? And at almost 80, he's still going strong.

P.S. After visiting the show, Babbie and I went up to the Met's balcony and had a glass of white wine and relaxed before heading back to Grand Central and the train ride back to Wassaic. Going through the darkness, hearing that lonely train whistle blow is somehow a comforting sound. We also saw my sister Britt, her son Ned, and her husband Ed Ochester, the poet. He is recuperating nicely from a medical emergency that takes the lives of 75 percent of those who go through it. He's tough and had a great surgeon.


February 7, 2008

This is Yellow Orange, a small painting that I've been working on in dribs and drabs over the last month.

It reflects my growing interest in the surface texture of the painting. This one is also an experiment. All the experts warn not to use acrylic paint over oil paint. So in this piece I've used layers of acrylic over some thick oils. I want to see what happens. So far nothing. But maybe any day all the paint will fall off or something.

I think I'm going to do some more work on the orange side.

P.S. I won't get a gold star for meeting deadlines today. I normally write my posts late the night before they appear and get them on the blog anywhere from midnight to 3 a.m. Last night I forgot it was blog night. So here I am posting it about 11 a.m. Good I don't have a boss. Oh yes, it is good good good not having a boss.

P.S.S. My granddaughter was over the other day. I was on the phone when she saw this one lying around. She tapped me on the shoulder, smiled and gave me a thumbs up. I wish she was a curator at MASS MoCA.


February 5, 2008

This is a red squirrel in a white tree, a birch, in our side yard.

I got this shot from a dinning room window yesterday morning. The small squirrel is looking down at another red squirrel trying to trespass on his hole. I don't think this is the squirrel's nest, just his pied-a-terre.

When we had the tree pruned and fertilized last summer - we were worried that it was going to die - Babbie called the spot to the tree guy's attention. She was afraid it might be a hole. But he said it wasn't. So either he was wrong or the squirrel hollowed it out since then. It's big enough for him to go in head first and turn around. How much bigger than that I don't know. I hope it doesn't mean that section of the trunk is hollow.

I worry about this birch, which is a beauty.

The squirrel looks cute poking his head out. I think this head harbors the mind of a civil engineer. Squirrels I'm convinced study things and calculate solutions.

You can see the reds and their larger gray buddies looking for minutes at a time at the bird feeder hanging from one of the birch's branches. Some of them were able to plot the math and physics of raiding our old bird feeder. To do it they'd grip the feeder's roof with their rear feet and hang upside down so they could slip a paw into the seed slot without putting their weight on the perch. They had learned the hard way that if they did, a door closed over the seed slot.

Red and his friends still can't figure out how to outsmart our new feeder. It has a battery-driven electric motor that makes the circular perch spin if a squirrel puts its weight on it, flinging the encroacher off.


February 3, 2008

Here are two photos of the lowering winter sun.

Above it lights up a cellar window in my house. To me there is a sadness to this picture.

In the photo on the left the sun has dropped behind the pines at the south end of Pontoosuc Lake. In the foreground you can see my footprints as I left Muscle Beach and headed to the north end.

It had rained during the morning and the surface snow had turned to slush. That hadn't occurred to me and I was wearing sneakers. But my feet didn't get too wet. I tried to steer clear of spots where the slush looked deep.

Ten minutes earlier the sunlight briefly turned the trees on Francis Island a soft red, and a swath of the same color appeared section high on the mountainside.


February 1, 2008

This is Cathedral (Number Two). I finished it yesterday.

This time instead of red drips to define the cathederal, as in the January 30 post, I used aluminum. That's an homage to Jackson Pollack.

The paints used here are from Tyler Supply in Pittsfield. They're acrylic enamel except for the aluminum, which is oil based. I love the blue in the mid-section. It's called Dark Lillac. The paints were applied wet on wet, which allows the colors to blend, creating new colors. The aluminum was applied after the acrylics dried.

This painting is 54.5"x54". I want to take it to my art group next week to see what they think. But I might have to remove the middle row seats in the van. Which would be a pain.


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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