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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

February 27, 2009

I love these cookies. It's love, oh love, oh careless love. I have three of them a day . At lunch. Usually I can't wait and eat them before lunch. Sometimes - and this is the careless part - I have four. Occasionally five

Man are they good. These Sweetzels spiced wafers are the ultimate cookie. They're made in Skippack, Pennsylvania. You get a whole lot of them, 1 pound 2 ounces of them, for just $2.19 cents. Fifty four delicious cookies for that price is one of the world's great culinary deals.

But Sweetzels, as good as the company is, hasn't perfected one thing - getting them to the customer in one piece. Over the years I hate to think how many of them I've consumed have come out of the box broken. Just like these in my photo. I shouldn't complain. We all know that love, at times, hurts.

That's the way the cookie crumbles.


February 25, 2009

That's me on the outside taking the picture through the plate glass windows of the Joseph  Scelsi Intermodal Transportation Center in downtown Pittsfield. Well, actually it's my reflection.

Lisa and Ted and I were hanging six of my Dresden paintings there late yesterday afternoon. My show is the inaugural exhibit for the gallery.

I'm not naming the institution operating it because I don't want to scoop them. They'll make an announcement soon. The grand opening will be Friday the 13th.

Anyway, the first thing Monday morning I showed up at Ryder truck rental to get the truck Paul and Babbie and I would load the paintings into. The guy there was a little surprised because Ryder doesn't rent trucks from its Pittsfield operation anymore. But he was a good guy and called the Albany office. Albany claimed they had no record of the reservation I had made Friday.

I had rented a truck from them two years ago for my Lenox show. Finally it dawned on me I wasn't riding with Ryder this time. But who?

I called Babbie on Ryder's phone - I'd also forgotten my cell phone. She called Budget. Not them. She called Penske. Jackpot. So I drove over to Penske on the other side of town and picked up my truck.

Ah, the joys of being 73.

To make my morning a total screw up, I declined the $20 insurance. Naturally, I managed to clip the sideview mirror of a parked ambulance with the driver side mirror of the truck. It didn't hurt the truck but it collapsed the ambulance's mirror. So renting the truck is going to be a little more expensive than I expected.

It's my theory that I got the Friday-the-13th stuff over with on February the 23rd. Now the real 13th will go smoothly.

Below is a shot I took yesterday before we got these two up on the wall. This gallery has great natural light. On the street side it's all glass from the floor to the high ceiling.

P.S. I watched Obama last night. He's a man with a plan. Lot's of plans.  A headline in the NYTimes got it right:

"In Time of Crisis, Urging Bold Action and Big Ideas"  I think he's going to be a great president.



February 23, 2009

This is a shot of our walk last night from inside the house, part of my Inside-Out series. It had snowed all day, lightly, and the wind blew the snow around to soften some of the edges.

This morning Paul and I will be carrying six large Dresden paintings out this walk to a truck I've rented - assuming it will climb the hill to my house. We'll drive them down to the Joseph Scelsi Intermodal Transportation Center where they'll be installed in a new gallery with floor to ceiling windows on the street.

The painting below, which I call Of Time and the River, was hauled out of the cellar today. No easy task because it is 76.5"x83". Here's  what it looked like last night. We had put the sheet on it to protect it from the snow falling when we moved it. That's the tip of another Dresden painting behind it. The show of the front yard at the top was taken from the window at the left.

P.S. Congratulations Kate Winslet. And Mickey, you didn't win but you were a winner on screen.





February 21, 2009

The other day a collector of my work was coming over to look at some of my Scarlet Letter paintings. So I spread them out all over one room. This bunch, obviously, is on the sofa. The photo at the bottom shows them on our orange box.

They were up against the walls, up against the other sofa, up against other paintings. The room was also full of Dresden and Jeanne d'Arc paintings because I'm getting ready for two shows in March.

I've rented a truck for Monday when the first installation goes up. Some of the paintings are so large they won't fit in the car.

Last night we saw Bad Date starring Elizabeth Aspenlieder. The Shakespeare & Co. production is a one-woman comedy. And if you only have one woman in a play the one to have is Elizabeth (shown here in a publicity shot from the show).

Here's what Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal had to say about her: "On paper it’s a cleverly written, overly cute one-woman romcom — and so it remained on stage when I saw Julie White perform it at Playwrights Horizons six years ago. But Elizabeth Aspenlieder, a splendid stage comedienne whose zany acting is part of what makes Shakespeare & Company the best theater troupe in the Berkshires, has miraculously contrived to turn Ms. Rebeck’s modest little show into a poignant slice of urban life that also happens to be drop-dead funny."

Between now and March 9, she will be on stage in Bad Dates 12 more times. Don't miss it. Stirring Elizabeth into a blog about the Scarlet Letter isn't as odd a mix as you might thing. She appeared gratis in a benefit performance Julianne Hiam wrote and staged at the Lenox Library in connection with my Scarlet Letter show there two years ago.





February 19, 2009

I like to paint big. But work by Kehinde Wiley, a 31-year-old Brooklyn-based artist, dwarfs mine. He's become hot in the last few years. But, living in the sticks, alas, I have never seen his stuff except in photographs. The photo above is from Flickr and was taken at Deitch Projects, a  New York gallery, late last year.

Wiley has become so successful that he has assistants who help him crank out paintings in studios in New York and China to help him meet demand.

Wiley uses young black men he finds in Harlem as models. Roberta Smith, a New York Times critic, describes it well:

"Their silken running suits, carefully creased jeans and bling reflected the sartorial codes of hip-hop, but their poses and props (thrones, scepters, rearing horses, religious attributes) were lifted from the portraits of Velázquez, David and Gainsborough or Renaissance images of saints."

And he spins his magic with highly decorative backgrounds taken from wallpaper and fabrics.



February 17, 2009

Now I'm taking you through the woods to the Beautiful Field that I showed you February 13. That was Friday the 13th. Below is the bad luck the woods has encountered, although not on the 13th.

This was all woods until about four years ago. This is taken from the edge of the woods. It covers hundreds of acres, perhaps thousands. But it is under siege. This development has cut into it. Now 110 units of housing are scheduled to go in across from our house on 77 acres of open fields and woods that run down to Route 7 as it passes along the east shore of Pontoosuc Lake. The same developer that is building the project in the picture above, owns a lot more of the woods as it heads for the Beautiful Field. It makes me sick to see the forest falling.

Here we're nearing the field. It was Saturday when Babbie and I took the trail and I took these pictures. If we live long enough, we will see this vanish. Houses will tame the woods.


February 15, 2009

Our son Eric went into Van Otis Chocolates in Manchester, N.H., yesterday to buy his lovely wife Michelle a Valentine present and ended up on WMUR's evening newscast.

With his looks and personality we used to tell Eric he should become an actor. Instead he became a star salesman of commercial insurance for the Rowley Agency in Concord, N.H.

If you'd like a glimpse of why we thought he'd do well in Hollywood click here and play the video on the top right.


Speaking of handsome people with great personalities, Babbie and I went to see Kori Withers at MASS  MoCA's Alternative Cabaret last night. Kori (that's her on the right) has an amazing voice. Take a listen to her singing one of her compositions, Blue Blues.

Her father Bill Withers wrote Ain't No Sunshine, Lean on Me and Just the Two of Us and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005. She's a chip off the old block.

We ate in the Cabaret before her performance and looked around the museum, of which we're members and big fans, before that.

In the afternoon we took a hike through the woods to the Beautiful Field, a place that has played a role in chapters of our love story. (For a picture of the field, see my February 13 post.) It was a fine Valentine's Day.



February 13, 2009

This is the Beautiful Field. That's what we've been calling it for the last 40 years. It's about a 15 minute walk through the woods from our house.

Babbie and I often daydreamed about  building a house here, a low-lying modern house with a shed roof and a lot of glass facing this view. The land was up for sale a year or so ago but not at a price we could deal with.

Even though you're looking down at a factory - it used to be Pontoosuc School, which our kids attended - it is quiet up here in the Beautiful Field, except for the occassional snow mobile.

I don't walk up there as often since our dog Max died a few years ago. Walking in the woods isn't as much fun without him. One time on our way to the field we encountered a bear in a tree off the trail. That's another reason I cut down my walks in the woods.

Below on the left is a shot of the woods. In one place now it skirts a new condo development that intrudes on the sense of isolation and wiped out a long section of the trail. A neighbor established a new trail. On the right is a photo of what it looks like when you leave the woods. It is truely the Beautiful Field.

















February 11, 2009

Movies don't make me cry. I'm pretty tough. But last night Babbie and I saw The Wrestler and at the end two or three tears rolled down my cheek.

Mickey Rourke's performance as a beatifically battered wrestler is wrenching and I hope it wins him the Oscar.

Now I'm going to tell you some stuff I've read about him. As a young actor Rourke was in demand because of his looks and talent. Temperamental and tempestuous - he took to bringing his Hell's Angels buddies onto the set - he burned out his welcome in Hollywood and for a while in the 1990s turned to professional boxing. He had 12 bouts and won 10. Eventually Rourke, who is 56, started showing up again in the movies in some decent roles and then got this one.

"To say this is a great comeback for an actor whose talent was exceeded only by his self-destructiveness is obvious," wrote David Ansen of Newsweek.

"Director, Darren Aronofsky, and the writer, Robert D. Siegel, have turned the story of this washed-up faux gladiator into a film of authentic beauty and commanding consequence," Joe Morgenstern wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

Starring also is Marisa Tomei as a stripper, whose heart she reluctantly gives to the wrestler, but by then it's too late. She's fine and I guess she's also making something of a comeback. Evan Rachel Wood is the daughter Rourke tries, and almost succeeds, in winning back into his life. But he screws it up.

Babbie and I were the only ones in the audience for the 6:30 show at the mall. That was a first for us. I guess Tuesday night isn't movie night at the mall.

I just realized it's 2:20 a.m. and I haven't done the dishes yet. That's right, the dishes. Tough guys can do dishes.


February 9, 2009

This is my dive bombing Firebird from the Dresden Firebombing series that is soon going to be shown at a gallery in Pittsfield.

I'm not sure it will be in the show. I pulled it out yesterday afternoon because it had not been photographed in this guise. In it's earlier incarnation it looked like this:

The painting is 82"x34.5" and is acrylic over paper on canvas. It was done in 2006. I don't know yet if Firebird is one of the paintings we will be showing. Here is a detail from the repainted version.




February 7, 2009

This self portrait may be more up close and personal than you'd like to get. But I like it because I look a little... what? A little menacing? A little  deranged? A little like the Unibomber?

Bad skin. Bulbous nose - the result perhaps of too many glasses of wine over a lifetime? Eyes narrowing to slits above the bags. Jowls getting fleshier. Lips getting thinner.

Would you buy a painting from this guy? No. But there are people who would. A woman who owns a number of my paintings came to look at more yesterday. It always makes you feel good when someone gets excited looking at your stuff.

Another nice thing happened. A friend, one of two who helped launch my new take on the Jeanne d'Arc series, told me to stop worrying so much about my new work looking like Louis Morris's. She emailed this:

"I say the hell with him. You're doing your streams of color from our
imagery of Jeanne d'Arc. So don't stop; you're just improving on the
concept. Louis didn't have any ideas; he was just trying to sell pretty

Of course Louis was breaking new ground, which she knows, and his work was breathtaking. Nevertheless, I like my friend's take on the situation.




February 5, 2009

This is what I see about 9:30 or 10 on a sunny morning when, still in bed, I look out the bedroom window.

By this time Babbie will have been up for two or three hours. If it's a Sunday, she's already walked up around the lake and bought the New York Times at Simon's. Me I like to lie in bed with the sun pouring in, the room cold, the blankets pulled up, the cat with me. Here she is basking in the sun just like me. But this day she's on top of the covers. Most mornings she likes us to lift the top blanket so she can work her way under and sleep completely covered. I think that's why she's been getting dandruff, which you can see in this shot. Evalene's 16 years old  and likes her creature comforts.

When I go to sleep about 2 or 3, I lie on the blue couch and watch the flames in the fireplace. I'm fascinated by the flames. I study them. I want to duplicate them for my Jeanne d'Arc paintings. But I never can get them right. I think sometimes that the guys who come closest are the ones who paint the stylized flames scorching the hood of a souped up car.

The living room gets cold but I'm dressed for the cold and pull a blanket and shawl over me.

By 6 or so I move upstairs and crawl in with Babbie and revel in her body heat. At 6:30 the clock radio turns on to the NPR news and I doze in and out of the stories for the next few hours. If I stay in one place all night, I get restless and my legs hurt like hell - an affliction of old age I guess. But if I sleep in different places, on different floors of the house, I seem to outfox the pain, leaving it downstairs when I go up.

It was down around zero when Babbie jumped out of bed about 7:30 yesterday -she's a morning person - and went to the Y for aerobics. By the time she got home at 9:30 it was probably 15 degrees. By the time I took a walk around the lake to the Post Office at noon it was 19 degrees according to the thermometer at the donut shop across from Simon's. So you can see the thermal advantages of sleeping late in winter.

After hitting the Post Office I wanted to pick up a coffee at the donut shop so I could sip it on the last mile of my walk. But I didn't stop because of my hands. Or rather what I was wearing on my hands. I had on one pair of gloves, covered by heavy mittens, covered by another pair of mittens that are a windproof shell. With my hands warm but fattened by so many layers, I realized I couldn't hold a paper cup, not even a small.

As I walked I listened to the last CD of the Widows of Eastwick, John Updike's last novel, the one I had just started when he died. I liked the way it ended on a note of hope, of casting aside guilt and age and the knowledge that death isn't that far off and celebrating friendship and the future.

By the time I got home it was after 1. I ate lunch, did a little art work and about 3 took a nap. Later I read a traffic report Al sent me showing the impact of a 110-unit housing development planned across the street from us. After supper Babbie and I watched Live in Maid, a quiet Brazilian movie, and I watched Damages with Glenn Close, which I think I'd like better if I could figure out what's going on. But I keep watching because her co-star, Rose Byrne, is so interesting and so beautiful. (That's her in the photo.)

After I finish this blog about midnight, I'll go down to the studio and try to get some more work done.




February 3, 2009

So here's the problem. This isn't a Jeanne d'Arc by Grier Horner. This is 'Nun' by Morris Louis done in 1959. If you've been looking at my last four Jeanne d'Arc paintings, you know I owe a debt to Morris Louis.

You might say I was ripping his style off. I wouldn't argue with you. I had looked at his stuff before I started the new approach late last year. But I didn't realize how close I was to his technique - not in skill but in method - until I looked at his work again today following an email from a friend.

This creates a dilemma. Should I stop. I think the answer there is yes. But I'm getting a little obsessed with it, which makes the stopping hard. His paintings certainly are beautiful. Maybe you have some thoughts on this. I'd love to hear from you if you do.

February 1, 2009

I've been showing you so many abstract paintings lately I thought to start February I'd go back to realism. This painting I did in 2000 is one of my wife's favorites. I also did a portrait of the same tree in fading light in autumn that year.

One of many twisted old fruit trees in the woods across from our house, it is no longer there, the victim of development.

I admired the way these trees, knurled and bent and broken, refused to die. I would take a portable stool out in the woods with me that winter and sketch the trees. This period was one of my few forays into landscape.

The painting is pretty big, 75" x 60", not including its broad gold boarder. Unstretched, push pins hold it to the wall.



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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