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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

January 30, 2008

This is a new painting, Cathedral.

It's propped up against our dinning room doors. You can see from the reflection in the glass that we still have snow cover. This is the painting whose underpinnings were shown on my January 26 post. Cathedral is 58"x41.5" and the paint is acrylic enamel and acrylic.

Monday I started on a second one in this vein, decommissioning an old painting. I pulled all the staples, took the painting off its stretcher and rolled it up. I cut fresh canvas off my roll and attached it to the stretcher. It's part of a process of conserving space in our house.

I started doing that with the Dresden Firebombing series in 2006 and 2007, except then I was painting over old paintings rather than saving them. Anyway, I worked on the new painting yesterday and so far I like it. It's a large square. Square is a shape I almost never use. I usually go vertical.

Cathedral was painted with large brushes and with drips and it felt liberating.


January 28, 2008

Back on January 18 I put a detail of this painting on the blog. It's been finished for days now, so here is the whole thing.

It depicts a section of Dresden, Germany, after the firebombing in 1944 with the Elbe River flowing through. In the detail at right you can see that fires are still burning in some bombed-out buildings.

The buildings are made of Level-Best, a cement-like building material. The river is of very thin copper flashing riveted to the painting's wooden support. The painting is 4'x2'. The paint is oil. This is a companion piece to Mill Town, which was on the blog January 8. Because of the Level-Best, they both weigh a ton.

Babbie says to stop making them.

"They're too dull and depressing," she says.

She may be right. It's Anselm Kiefer's fault. I started doing them after seeing his brilliant paintings at MASS MoCA. See my November 3 archive. To see more of my Dresden paintings, go to the icons at the top of this page and click on Dresden.


January 26, 2008

I'm leaning on a stretcher I just made. A section of the late RayLib's painting, "To the Lower Depths," is in the background. Babbie snapped the picture.

My friend Debbie gave me a whole bunch of stretcher bars last weekend because she said she wasn't going to be doing any paintings that big. This is one I put together and then reinforced. Her stretcher bars are the dark wood, the reinforcing 1"x2" poplar is the white. It is glued and screwed to the bars. Having the bars saved me a lot of effort. Normally I cut poplar strips to form that part of the rigid L-shaped structure too. After I stretched raw canvas over the support, attaching it with a staple gun, I applied three coats of gesso to prime the surface.

Friday morning between 12:30 and 2:30 I did a painting on it. I worked a little more on it during the day. I'm still debating whether one section needs more work.

It took longer to build the stretcher than to do the painting. That doesn't happen with me very often.

RayLib - Ray Librizzi's nome de plume - did the painting in the photo on his hands and knees in his attic in 100 degree heat. He was 84 at a time and his eyesight was starting to go. I bought the 8'x4' painting from Ray, a long-time friend, the year he painted it. It's a prized possession.


January 24, 2008

At the risk of appearing crassly commercial and materialistic, I covet this jacket.

It keeps cropping up in the email solicitations Johnston & Murphy has sent me about once a week since I bought a pair of shoes from them last fall. It has been easy to resist. It cost $1,198. And it only comes to your waist. But now it's been marked down to $699.99. Bargain that it is, it's still out of range. By a mile.

I know its not PC but that rabbit fir lining stirs me. I've had a pair of leather gloves with rabbit lining for about 10 years. They're not much good anymore because of slits in the seams. But before the wind started swirling around inside them, I loved to wear them because of the feel of that soft soft fur.

Being a child at heart I always called them my bunny gloves - and still think of them fondly. We have a rabbit that has been appearing in our yard since summer. It's nice to see him. I wish him a life free from becoming a lining. But I still covet that thing.


January 22, 2008

I shot the moon rising Sunday during a break in the Giant's game. It was taken through a window in our addition., the internet seller of books and almost everything else, is holding the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.

Of almost 5,000 novels entered, our son Michael's is one of the 1,000 books that survived the initial cut. The field will be whittled down to 100, then 10 and finally, on April 7 the winner will be announced.

At this time excerpts from all 1,000 are posted on Amazon and people are invited to read them and write reviews.

His book, Damage Control: Public Relations for the Modern Family, is amazingly good.

But don't take the word of this unbiased father, read the first 13 pages by hitting this Amazon link. I don't know if its like American Idol, but I think having people review the book helps. Eventually, reviews are going to be written by Publishers Weekly as well.

Like Michael, I wanted to be a novelist ever since Mr. Fagan in my senior year in high school praised a short story I turned in. Eventually I wrote two novels. One while I was in college and one when I was in my mid-40s. In between there were years when I would lie awake and feel sorry for myself because I wasn't fulfilling my destiny: A fortune teller had told my mother, just before my birth, that I would be a writer. Of course the fortune teller turned out to be right. I was a reporter. But I was sure the fortune teller meant a writer of fiction. (Perhaps I should mention that some of the readers of my reporting claimed it was fiction. But that's beside the point.)

It was the second novel that got me out of the wanting-to-be-a-writer rut. Basically my book, Sleepwear, stunk. It took me a year or so to realize that. But when I did I decided that was the best I could do and that cured my writing malaise. Beside, it was about a period in my life when I was all messed up and was messing up lives of people I loved. I'm glad it wasn't published.

But Mike's a different story. His novel is the real mccoy.

Here's an excerpt. The speaker is Doug Merit, a good-hearted GE PR guy who has spent the day trying to control a neighborhood uprising over PCBs. That evening red wine and an X-rated game of Scrabble launch Doug into family freefall.



January 20, 2008

High over Pontoosuc Lake these days you can see the giant blades turning slowly, reaping the wind.

Jiminy Peak, a ski area in New Ashford, installed the GE wind turbine at a cost of almost $4 million dollars, an expense it hopes to pay off in seven years with the help of renewable energy credits, a $600,000 state grant, and sales of surplus power to the grid.

"Once the loan is paid off," Brian Fairbank told the Wall Street Journal, "we're in essence getting free energy."

Fairbank, 61, who has run Jiminy since he was 23, eventually bought it with a partner and turned it into one of the best ski resorts in New England.

He is the first ski operator in the country to turn to wind power. He had a reason. The cost of electricity in the Berkshires has been skyrocketing, driving three paper mills out of business last year. And Jiminy consumes a lot of power for its lifts, lodges, hotel and its massive snow making operation. As this approached $1 million a year, the resort started looking for an alternative. The answer was the wind turbine, which will supply half its electricity in the winter, and one-third on an annual basis. (The wind is most consistent in winter.)

It was bitterly cold on the lake Wednesday when I took this shot. The wind was blowing so hard I held my hands behind my back like a skater to shield my gloved fingers from its bite. The same wind was turning the blades on the 378-foot windmill.

I love to watch them turn. There majesty - and power - in the way they move.


January 18, 2008

This is a detail of my current painting in the River Works series. This time the river is the Elbe flowing through a bombed-out Dresden.

However, the river is off camera in this shot of a small section of the 4'x 2' piece. I'll show you the whole painting when it's finished.

This is another of my Level-Best specials on plywood. As I was working on the one of Pittsfield (See my January 8 post), it became apparent that the technique would be perfect for another approach to Dresden, a series I completed last spring.

In the upper center of this photo, is a monument placed in a traffic circle. It's made from a bullet casing.


January 16, 2008


Here's a look at sunlight from two perspectives as it dropped low in the sky on a late December afternoon.

The photo above catches it casting a golden light on the wall and shelves over my workbench in the cellar. Going from the basement to the fields above my house, I got the shot of the sun dropping behind the mountains, illuminating the sky and clouds as it went.



January 14, 2008

The Girl Who Stopped Turning by Christine Heller. Below, Christine at the Bienniale.

The woman in the orange jumpsuit and the black cowboy boots at the Biennale Internazionale Dell'Art Contemporanea this December in Florence, Italy, chose her outfit carefully.

Christine Heller's jumpsuit symbolized the ones worn by prisoners at Guantanamo. The orange pants legs were tucked into black cowboy boots, a reference to President Bush.

The two large inkjet prints she had hanging  in the show each depicted a child lost in the war (See photo at top.)

On her back each day of the exhibit was a different poster displaying art from a series of anti-Iraq War installations. (Right and bottom.)

"I feel such outrage," she said about the war. She thought the war would temper the European's attitude toward Americans. "But they all said they understood that it was Bush, not the people. They really like Americans."

Christine was one of 840 artists from 76 countries invited to exhibit at the Biennale at the Fortezza Da Basso. And she said she was the only one whose work was political, which surprised her.

The artist had hoped to take four paintings to Florence, but found the shipping would be prohibitively expensive. So she had Giclee blowups 44" x 55" shot and then worked them over with varnish to make them look more like the originals.

She sent them to Italy in two separate containers to improve her chances that at least one would arrive on time. That plan was fortuitous. One package was delayed in Italian Customs and wasn't released in time for the show.

"Did people get her getup?"

"Oh yeah, definitely," she said. "It was sort of a quiet reaction. When I was in line for cappuccino people would stare, would ask me to turn around so they could read what was on the back."

During the nine days of the show, she and her husband Marc would hang out in the fort where it was held. They met foreign artists, some of whom they hope will be lifelong friends, and talked with them about art and life.

"To actually spend days with people and be able to mull over things was a luxury," Christine said. "We all thought a lot about each other's work. We were coming from different worlds and it felt wide open and refreshing."

There was one general disappointment, she said. "We all really faulted the organizers for not connecting with museums and galleries."

For more about Christine's work take a look at her web site,, and my August 31 and 29 pieces about her installation in a four-story elevator shaft in Hudson last summer. In the photo above her poster illustration is one of the photos I took of that monumental work.

January 12, 2008

Fog, brought on by the heat wave, starts to lift along East Acres Road, my street . Photo by Grier Horner

I shot this picture from my front yard Wednesday morning during a mid-winter heat wave that's still with us. Fog was just starting to lift as sun broke through.

I love the softness, and the subtle way the sun is illuminating the fog and the snow. It was probably 50 at the time. The day before it had hit an amazing 63. That afternoon Riley and I played basketball on the court behind Capeless School.

It was our second bout with the ball we gave her for Christmas. The first was in her garage. This was better because we could shoot instead of just dribbling and passing. She just started playing this season. One half of the court was clear. When we missed the backboard the ball rolled through snow.

"Nichols brings the ball down the court. She's still dribbling ladies and gentlemen. There's only two seconds on the clock. She shoots, she scores. The Sun's win," I'd say as we played.

She was picking up the banter too: "Horner's got the ball. He's moving in for a shot. But, no, Nichols takes the ball away."

During a pause - and when you play with me there are plenty of pauses - she said, "I didn't know you could play basketball, Grier."

I always get a kick out of the way this 8-year-old calls me Grier. She's been doing it since she was about 2.

After her game the next evening, the coach told Riley she could tell she'd been practicing. That pleased Riley and it made me feel good too.


January 10, 2008

This shinning tunnel burrows under Route 7, giving access to Pontoosuc Lake. Digital photos, Grier Horner

Reflected light played off the floor, ceiling and walls of the tunnel under Route 7 yesterday morning. It was the first time I had seen the tunnel, normally dark inside, look transparent.  

I think it reached this state as a result of the weather. Sunday and Monday it was in the 50s. Tuesday it was 63, tying a record for Pittsfield set in 1933. And yesterday it was still warm, although not so close to the Louisiana temperature as it had been.

So, my theory goes, the unseasonable warmth led to the heavy condensation on all the tunnel's surfaces and to the water on the floor. And voila - the reflections. The last time this blog visited the tunnel was November 24.

The heat is an aberration. Only a few days before it was 6 below zero. We've had almost 40 inches of snow so far. But with the heat and rain patches of grass have been exposed.

The clouds soaring above a neighbor's house were also shot yesterday.

I want winter back.


January 8, 2008

Work in Progress - Mill Town -  4' x 2', Oil on plywood, Grier Horner.

Mill Town, the piece I showed you January 2, is evolving but is still a work in progress.

It is a depiction of Pittsfield where the Housatonic River flows through next to the GE plant which is on the left bank of the river in the central section.

I am working on the painting on a table and this shot was taken standing on a chair looking down at it.

In it's heyday GE polluted the river with heavy concentrations of PCBs, a suspected cancer causing chemical. The Environmental Protection Agency designated the grounds of the former large transformer manufacturing plant, Silver Lake, which the plant bordered, and the river a Superfund Site. The brightly colored spots in the painting symbolize PCB hot spots.

So far GE has spent $90 million cleaning up the mess. A lot more work remains to be done.

When I moved to Pittsfield in 1965, GE employed more than 10,000 here. Now it employs zero. The cutback had the city reeling for 20 years but now it is staging a comeback.

Below is a detail of the factory section of the painting.

Mill Town. This detail shows the former GE transformer plant, which badly polluted the land and the river.



January 6, 2008


Here are two more in the expanding Monongahela series. I finished the one on the right yesterday afternoon. It is a triptych, totaling 54"x 14", oil on canvas. The one on the left is a week old and is 18"x14".

Unlike the ones I showed you January 2, these surfaces are not in relief. In other words, no Level-Best.

As things progress Monongahela as a series title may have to give way to something more generic, maybe River Works, because I am starting to include the Housatonic which flows through Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where I live, and plan to do the Hoosac, which it runs through North Adams, home of MASS MoCA.

The paint on these is layered and thick. For the last year or so I've been adding wax medium to the paint.

I haven't abandoned the Continental Drift series, which I think has potential.




January 4, 2008

Ed Ochester, hands behind his head, lives in Girty, PA, one of a few dozen residents. I don't know who took the photo.

Ed Ochester read his poetry to a packed gallery at Bennington College last night. From their faces you could tell the gathering ate it up. That's no surprise. I've seen him read before and it's always that way. The force of the poems and of the poet generate a magnetic field that pulls you into his world.

As the poet Gerald Stone put it "Ochester's poems are gorgeous, brilliant, heart-breaking and formally wise." He forgot funny.

After Ed read "Dreaming About My Father," he pulled a large bandana from his pocket, turned his head and blew his nose forcefully.

"I have postnasal drip," he tells the audience, which laughs. It appeared the stuff about his late father had brought him to tears and Ed wanted to set that straight.

Hd didn't want anyone to say, as he put it, "What kind of a jerk cries at his own poetry," or something close to that. I wasn't taking notes.

Ed, I think, and many others agree, is one of the best American poets.

After he finished, a woman said she thought she had met me last year.

I asked her her name. It is Star Black. She thought I was a businessman who was here with some friends of hers a year ago.

"I'm a painter," I told her. "But my claim to fame is that my sister is married to Ed Ochester."

Ed and Britt own two of my paintings, One of them is at the right. I thought of using that one in this piece after learning that Barack Obama won in Iowa last night, rolling over Hillary Clinton. I am an Obama fan, just as I am an Ochester fan, and contributed the grand sum of $75 to his campaign so far.

I told my sister after seeing Ed at a previous Bennington reading where people gasped audibly at his imagery that he is a rock star at these events.


January 2, 2008

Here's Mill Town, the latest in the Monongahela series. I'm pretty psyched about it's looks.

It's a factory town based loosely  on Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where I live and were the now-abandoned GE plant badly polluted the Housatonic River with PCB's.

Before I photographed this, I had just used the pencil to mark the time - December 31 at 7 p.m. - that I had finished this. You have to wait 72 hours for the Level-Best to dry thoroughly before painting it and I didn't want to forget when the countdown started.


The painting on the right is part of the same series. I showed you this one December 28 in its raw, Level-Best stage. It is on four plywood panels, each 12 inches by 12 inches.

The white spaces between the top panels are not part of the painting. That's the wall showing through. I hadn't hung the panels close enough together. At 48 inches high, this piece and Mill Town are getting closer to the size I feel comfortable with. I had been doing a lot of 18"x14" paintings the last few months as I experimented with abstract painting. I had always been figurative. The Monongahela series is something in between.

P. S. By the way, happy New Year. We had to cancel our traditional New Year's Eve party for a variety of reasons. So it was Babbie and me in a race against the clock. We were watching Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin on CNN's New Year's Eve show. He made a charming foil for her acerbic wit.

But by 11:15 Babbie and I were starting to drift into sleep. She set the stove timer for 11:45 so we'd be sure to wake up for midnight. But we both slept through the ball dropping at Time's Square.



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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