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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

January 30, 2009

I just got back from Northampton (about 11:30 last night) where I was at the Haymarket Cafe talking with a good friend about an exciting project she's been working on.

It takes a little over an hour to get there and I listened to my CDs of The Widows of Eastwick both ways. John Updike, the author, died the other day - a day on which I was reading the last novel he wrote before his death. It would be fascinating to know how many people were reading The Widows of Eastwick that day. It's the sequel to The Witches of Eastwick, which was made into a movie starring Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer and Cher. Ironically there is a lot about death in the new novel. One of the main characters, Jane, during a ceremony in which the trio was trying to rekindle their powers after lo these many years.

The painting above is Jeanne d'Arc (Number 33). I've switched to small for this one and its sequel, Number 34. It measures 48" x 31.5".

"That's small?" Babbie asked when I showed it to her yesterday.

Small by my standards.

Again its acrylic on unprimed canvas. Below is a detail. It's the upper right hand corner. My colors are becoming so subtle I can hardly recognize these as my paintings. Don't worry. I don't know if I can keep it up. Subtle has never been my forte.

By the way I got some good news yesterday. I'm going to have a second solo show this year. More about that another time.



January 28, 2009

January 28, 2009

Now comes Jeanne d'Arc (Number 32). I'm throwing them at you the last few days as aggressively as Joan confronted the enemy in battle. Aggressiveness is not always the best policy. I find the number of hits falls when I show too many of this series in a row.

Anyway, this one is 74"x48", acrylic on raw canvas, and was done a few days ago. As in the last four or five paintings, I'm essentially staining the canvas. To do that I use raw canvas and thin the paint in a variety of ways so that it sinks into the canvas. This compares to the traditional approach of putting layers of gesso over the canvas before painting so that the paint stays on top of the canvas instead of soaking into it. This is a simple distinction but I think I'm making it as clear as mud.

Here is a detail from this painting that may show you, better than words, what I mean by staining the canvas.




January 26, 2009

Meet Jeanne d'Arc 31. It continues in my new, more subtle vein. It is 74"x48", acrylic on canvas, and was finished about a week ago. I glued a large canvas cross on the unprimed canvas before applying the paint.

The idea of using the cross came from historians who said that a cross and a crucifix ( a representation of Jesus on the cross ) played a role in her execution on May 30, 1431. Here is an excerpt from my notes. I regret I did not jot down the author's name.

"Tied to a tall pillar in the Vieux-Marche in Rouen, she asked two of the clergy, Fr Martin Ladvenu and Fr Isambart de la Pierre, to hold a crucifix before her. A peasant also constructed a small cross which she put in the front of her dress.

"After she expired, the English raked back the coals to expose her charred body so that no one could claim she had escaped alive, then burned the body twice more to reduce it to ashes and prevent any collection of relics. They cast her remains into the Seine.

"The executioner, Geoffroy Therage, later stated that he "...greatly feared to be damned."



January 23, 2009

These are my new bib overalls made of canvas, the same 12 ounce weight of my canvases. That's my painting of Red Riding hood (all grown up and wreaking revenge on the werewolves of London) behind me.

Taking a picture of me in the overalls was Babbie's idea. "You're always looking for things for your blog," she said. She took the picture.

Tom, a friend and UPS driver, delivered them this morning. I'd been thinking of buying a pair for years. But I really got serious about it this winter because I've started feeling the cold more. It takes me a long time to buy things. Usually I hate to go to stores. And this was no exception. But I looked and could only find the ones that are lined for extra warmth. I wanted unlined. So I went on google and looked at the pictures and studied the descriptions from a dozen different sites. I hate to think how many hours i spent on this.

These are for ice walking and are worn over pants. And they give you extra cover in the small of the back. Also, and I love this, they have 11 pockets as well as two loops for hanging a hammer and a paint brush. And that's not counting the pocket in each leg that accepts knee pads.

I gave them their test run on the lake late this afternoon. Perfect. And I haven't taken them off since. I took a nap in them, I drank wine in them, I ate supper in them, I read in them, watched TV in them and I've still got them on at midnight. We keep the house pretty cold to hold down the heating bills, so I wear lots of layers. In this shot, besides the overhauls I'm wearing corduroy pants, a long sleeved thermal undershirt, a heavy flannel shirt, and a wool sweater which my daughter bequeathed to me from her second-hand clothes days. And I had just taken off my black hoodie.

When I finally purchased the Carhartt overalls on line, I realized I'd gotten a 36 inseam and 30 waist by mistake. What I wanted was the reverse. So I called up the place, That was good because the woman explained that if I planned to wear clothes under them I should get a size 40 waist instead of 36. I did and she was right. So these are my new indoor-outdoor overhauls - or overalls as they're more commonly called these days. I love them.



January 21,  2009

Babbie  in her 30s. Large Xerox blowup by Grier Horner

I put these Random Things About Me on facebook yesterday  - which was a wonderful day for America. Not because of what I wrote but because Barack Obama was sworn in. I got the idea for this from Richard Crookes, a facebook friend from the UK.

1. I'm 73. I like this stage of my life.

2. Age has some disadvantages. I go down to the cellar and can't remember why. So I go back upstairs. Then I remember.

3. I paint. All of the paintings since last May have been about Joan of Arc. She and Obama are my heroes.

4. I can't dance. Don't ask me.

5. I want to be rich and famous. But time is running out.

6. I have a great wife, Babbie. We had our first date when I was a high school senior and she was a junior. That night in the movies, with all my buddies sitting in the row behind us, I reached over to hold her hand. "What are you doing," she said loudly. "I was just trying to see what time it is," holding up wrist with its watch. I took a terrible ribbing in school on Monday. Aside from the botched hand-holding incident we had a wonderful time. When I got home I woke my parents up and told them I was going to marry Babbie. Fifty seven years later, we have three great kids, and two grandchildren we adore and a black cat Evalene. The photo at the right is of Babbie and our first child, Shannon, at the beach.

7. I write a blog, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man. (That's what you're looking at now.)

8. I paint in the cellar in a studio with a large glass sliding door. When Babbie's friends ask how her retirement is going, Babbie says: "It's OK. I keep Grier in the cellar."

9. On my 55th birthday I rode my bike 150 miles in 11 hours from Pittsfield to Burlington, Vt. Now I don't ride it at all.

10. I read novels. Or as my wife points out I listen to them on CDs. Right now I'm doing the Widows of Eastwick.

11. I go to bed at 2 or 3 a.m. and get up at 9 or 10.

12. I am terrible on names and faces, even the faces of attractive young women.

13. I spend too much time on the computer.

14. I love winter.

15. My wife has a Prius. We both love driving it. I have a van for hauling around paintings. In the 11/2 years we've had the Prius, the van doesn't get used much: 1,600 miles in the last six months.

16. When Barack Obama was sworn in, Babbie predicted he'll be president for eight years. Then she said, "I wonder if we'll be here?" I hope so.



January 19, 2009

I love this glass, this blue, blue glass. It reminds me why I always used to say blue was my favorite color. But I don't use blue all that much in my paintings. I tend more to reds and oranges. And I don't use them in subtle ways.

It's not that I don't like subtlety. I was looking at a painting my friend Joe was working on the other day and wished I could use colors like that. I set out to be subtle sometimes. But then I always say to myself, what this needs is a little red, or orange, or, lately, purple. And little, in my case, usually translates to a lot.

Saturday I did a painting using subtle colors, colors that are washed out and faded. I did throw red and purple in. But in a comparatively restrained way. Doing the painting was hard work because I had to fight myself all the way. When I was finished I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I'll show it to you soon.

Getting back to blue, there is a kinship between blue, red and purple. You mix the first two and you get the third.

If I could duplicate the surface of this glass in one of my paintings, I'd be ecstatic.



January 17, 2009

One of the charges against Jeanne d'Arc in her heresy trial was this: "The said Jeanne, against the bidding of God and His Saints, proudly and presumptuously assumed domination over men..."

According to the allegation leveled by the Church, this army grew to 16,000 and included "princes, barons and other nobles, all of whom she made fight under herself as principal captain."

This was 1431 and one of the many things a woman wasn't allowed to do was boss men around. And certainly a girl of 17 wasn't allowed to humble the English. Not only did she lead the army, she was terribly good at it.

Historians had long thought Jeanne was just a figurehead, an inspired cheerleader. More recently, however, she been seen as a brilliant tactician as well. The basis for the revisionist thinking is study of the testimony of men who served under her.

"She proceeded to lead the army in an astounding series of victories that reversed the tide of the war," according to Stephen W. Richey in his 2003 book Joan of Arc: The Warrior Saint. I believe I misspelled "lead" in the vertical section.

My painting Jeanne d'Arc (Number 30) at the top incorporates the words of both Richey and the domination-over-men charge in text that takes the form of a cross. You have to remember that Jeanne was also deeply religious and believed she was guided by God through the saints Catherine and Margaret. The photo at the left is of the painting and the painter at a stage before it was overwritten. The painting is 74"x48" and was completed this year. It marks the first time I've used words on a painting in this series. I'm wearing the hat to keep the glare of the overhead lights out of my eyes.

In overturning the English siege of Orleans, an arrow pierced the Jeanne's neck. She had her men remove it and returned to battle. In her fight to retake Paris, she received a crossbow bolt to the leg but continued to command. Another time she was hit in the helmet by a stone ball as she climbed a scaling ladder into a fort.

Bold in battle, she was bold in pronouncements as well. In a proclamation to the citizens of Tournai in 1429, she said: "...the Maiden lets you know that here, in eight days, she has chased the English out...they are dead or prisoners or discouraged in battle.

"Believe what you have heard about the earl of Suffolk, the lord la Pole and his brother, the lord Talbot, the lord Scales, and Sir Fastolf; many more knights and captains than these are defeated."

This was no idle boast. In that battle she had routed the main body of the English army under Fastolf and killed or captured most of its commanders. Fastoff, who escaped, became the scapegoat for the English humiliation.

You'll notice that besides the stenciled words there are many lines in my handwriting. This is my letter to Jeanne, translated into French courtesy of Google. A little corny I suppose. But heartfelt. I don't have space to translate it, for which we're all probably better off.



January 15, 2009

This is Jeanne d'Arc (Number 29), the first in the series painted on raw canvas.

I had hoped to hit Number 30 by the end of the year. But I missed by one. Number 30 was just finished - at least I think it's finished - Tuesday. I'll show you 30 soon. Both 29 and 30 are 72"x48".

"This is the first one I could live with," Paul said when I took it to our art group meeting a week ago. (Hauling it up three long flights of stairs to his studio was no fun because it's mounted on a heavy stretcher.)

I don't think Paul meant that he didn't like the rest of the series. I think he meant 29's predecessors were too depressing to have in your home. That's the way Babbie feels about the others, too.

That doesn't hurt my feelings because I intended them to be dark in spirit, after all they have been about the burning of Joan and about the clergy and aristocracy (depicted with the purples and deep reds) that presided over her trial.

This one is about that as well. But I used a lot of yellow and white which lighten the mood. That bothered me, making me think it wasn't appropriate for the subject. I had even thought of making this the start of a new series. Another difference in this painting is that much of the canvas is stained. In other words the paint is watered down and soaks into the canvas instead of thick layers on top of the canvas. It's a technique I've just started experimenting with.


January 13, 2009

Late yesterday afternoon I walked on water for the second time this season. For awhile I forgot I had already been out on the ice a week ago. Not remembering that wasn't surprising because that's the kind of day it had been.

Babbie found a cup of coffee I had put in the microwave Sunday after snow blowing. I had never taken it out. Then I was taking photos of two paintings that I put out on the deck to get good lighting. A half hour after I lugged them back in Babbie noticed that I had left my camera and gloves out on the deck. There were other things I forgot but I can't remember what they were. In the evening I went to the movies - Grand Torino - with a friend who has Alzheimer's but not so bad that he can't drive to the mall and enjoy a Clint Eastwood movie.

Back to the lake walk: Past the parking lot, which hadn't been plowed, I followed a path left by snowmobiles as I headed for the Blue Anchor. Along the way my right leg dropped into a public works booby trap. This thing is a storm drain in a low spot along the lawn leading to the Blue Anchor, often called Muscle Beach. Astonishingly for a drain placed where people might walk, it has an opening at one end big enough for your leg to plunge in. And your leg doesn't stop because it hits bottom. Your leg stops, still in mid air, because you've fallen to the ground.

I knew it was there but I also forgot about it. Besides you really couldn't see it covered with snow the way it was. There's another one like it on the Pittsfield Beautiful corner across the street where I mowed the lawn until Tommy took over this summer, and where Babbie and I take care of the long curving bed of day lilies and narcissus.

Anyway, every time I walk past these two I think how stupid they are and how someone is going to break a leg falling into them. I didn't break my leg; just barked my shin. I probably wasn't paying as much  attention as I should have been because Tim O'Brien's Vietnam War novel, "The Things They Carried", was being piped into my brain via earphones. It's good but it's troubling. I never had to face battle - thank God - but suspect I am poorer for that.

Out on the lake it was cold in the wind and I pulled on the orange hat in the photo and then pulled a thin black nylon ski mask over that to keep the wind out.

I walked out to the island on the snowmobile tracks. It's a good walk but not a real long one. By this time the ice fishermen had left and there were only a couple kids on the lake and one snowmobile in the distance. A sharp dividing line between shade and sun was etched in the snow about halfway out to the island. It felt good to cross into the sunlight.

You can see a lot of sky from the lake because it's big, flat and open. Scattered clouds rimmed the mountains that stretch like prone women along two sides of the lake. The vast curved blue infinity overhead was cloudless.

A large horizontal cloud started over Saddleback Mountain and Mount Greylock and stretched to the north end of the lake. It was gray and mauve underneath and its billowy edges were just taking on a little rose as the sun approached the mountains.

As cold as it's been, there are still pockets of slush that you only discover when you sink into one. That's what reminded me I'd been out on the lake last week. I cut the walk short that time because it was so cold and there was so much slush.

I don't like slush on the lake. For one thing it gives me the eerie feeling that there's no solid ice underneath. For another I wear sneakers on my lake walks and don't want water to slosh into them because my feet will get cold.

That didn't happen and I didn't fall into the damned storm drain on the way back. I couldn't figure out how to mark it to warn others. I wrote "hole" in the snow in front of it. That's not the right word for a warning but it doesn't matter because the letters in the snow would fill in fast. So if you're walking from the parking lot that edges the Pines condos over to the Blue Anchor, watch out.



January 11, 2009

This is a sunbathed detail from the portrait of Hannah that I painted in 2001. It has always been one of my favorites and hangs in the living room. When I was wandering around the house with  my camera recently, I noticed the bands of sun playing across the painting and shot it. (You can see the full painting by clicking "People" at the top of this page.)

Last night Babbie and I went to Brix Wine Bar in Pittsfield. It's one of my favorite places. But I bet I haven't been there for two years. It's a long narrow place with lots of atmosphere, a good wine list, good food. And it was bustling.

Coincidently, during dinner Babbie said she had seen Hannah recently and there was a wonderful calmness about her. I think that was true of her back in the year when I did a lot of paintings of Hannah and her friend Laura. Hannah has kids now and helps her husband in their work of bringing aid to Sudan.

Last night was like a date. Babbie looked great. We talked. Laughed. Drank red wine. Shared an appetizer and desert. In between she had a salad and I had a ham and brie sandwich with a fried egg on top. It was one of those sandwiches you have to eat with a knife and fork. It was very good. We were seated by the window and could see the snow falling in the light from the street lamp.

Who said being old stinks? Or for that matter that love stinks?



January 9, 2009

Here's what it looked like from our bedroom window yesterday morning when I got up about 9:15. (I'm not as lazy as it sounds. I don't go to bed until 2 or 3.) When I went downstairs Babbie told me that a woman had been badly hurt in a fall from a third story balcony at the Red Lion Inn. She had been in a fight with her boyfriend earlier and he was arrested. I read the story. Then I went around the house taking pictures from the windows, remembering why I love winter.

After I washed up I pulled on my boots and a jacket and went back to the shed to get out the snowblower. At that point I remembered I had no more gas. So I tied the red plastic gas container into the back of the van, drove around the lake to the Getty station, pumped 4 gallons into the container and another four into the van and paid Rich. (This shot is from the dinning room.)

I drove home, lugged the fuel to the shed, laid down the plywood sheets I use as a ramp, pulled the snowblower out, filled it's tank and started blowing snow. (This shot is from the addition.) Then I had lunch.  At 2 I wedged a 72" x 48" painting into the van and drove downtown for the once-a-month meeting of our art group. I carried the painting up three long flights of stairs. By the time I got to Paul's studio, the painting weighed a ton. We had a good session. Everyone had done interesting work.

After supper I took a nap. Then we watched Thirty Rock. For a while after that I looked at a paint catalog. And now I'm doing this. Next I'll do the dishes, make a small fire in the fireplace and read for a while. So that, pretty much, was my day. One other thing. Before I go to sleep I'll go to the windows and look out in wonder.


January 7, 2009

    1. This is Renee Maria Falconetti  as Joan in the 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc. A comedienne by trade , she was chosen by director Carl Theodor Dreyer to star in the movie that is still revered as one of the best ever filmed.

In 1997 Roger Ebert wrote, " You cannot know the history of silent film unless you know the face of Renee Maria Falconetti. In a medium without words, where the filmmakers believed that the camera captured the essence of characters through their faces, to see Falconetti in Dreyer's ``The Passion of Joan of Arc'' (1928) is to look into eyes that will never leave you."

And the late Pauline Kael, the legendary New Yorker critic, said Falconetti's portrayal ``may be the finest performance ever recorded on film.'' So much of what she does in this film is with her eyes. You can't take your eyes of her's. Dreyer never lets you.

Dryer had it shot almost entirely in close ups and got impressive performances from not only Falconetti but her inquisitors in the film of her 1431 heresy trial and execution by burning at the stake. (At the right is Eugene Silvain as her chief accuser, Bishop Cauchon) None of the actors wore makeup and the film was shot without much artificial lighting. The results were radical for the time and a film shot like that today would still be considered radical.

While Dreyer thought it would be popular with wide audiences, it was shown as an art film and didn't make a lot of money.

Falconetti was no kid when the film was made. She was 36, a  few years older than Ingrid Bergman when she played Joan. And 20 years older than Leelee Sobieski (see my January 5 and October 8 posts) when she played the French heroine who was killed at 19 after leading the army to several big victories over the English invaders.  Until her death, Joan of Arc said she was guided by the voices of Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret. Joan herself was named a saint in 1920 by the same church that took her life.

This is by far the best of the three Joan of Arc films I've seen so far. But unlike this one, which focused only on the trial and execution, gave a much broader picture, showing her as a warrior. My one criticism of this film is that Joan is portrayed her more as victim than victor. From my reading of the transcript of the trial, she was much tougher and much more clever in besting the best and the brightest of the theologians and aristocrats who tried her.

Of course, her brilliance in her own defense - mounted without counsel, unless you count her voices - was held against her.

P.S. I Grabbed these pictures from clips on YouTube.



January 5, 2009

Because of my current obsession with Joan of Arc, Babbie gave me a DVD of NBC's 1999 miniseries Joan of Arc with Leelee Sobieski (above) in the title role. We watched it last night. It wasn't bad, at least not as rotten as said it was.

Not as historically accurate as the 1948 version starring Ingrid Bergman, it was better entertainment. Ingrid, who was in her early 30s at the time, was not physically convincing playing the heroine who led the French to victories over the English in the 100 Years War. She was burned at the stake for heresy at the age of 19. Five hundred years later she was made a saint by the Catholic Church.

Leelee was 17 when it was filmed and even though both were a little wooden, played Joan with an empathy that Ingrid somehow lacked.

And the miniseries boasts an amazing cast, including Jacqueline Bisset, Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine, Peter O'Toole (left) and Maximilian Schell.

This week we have the 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc coming in from Netflix. At the time of its release a New York Times critic, Mordaunt Hall, called it a masterpiece. "...As a film work of art this takes precedence over anything that has so far been produced," he wrote in the newspaper. "It makes worthy pictures of the past look like tinsel shams."  So I'm looking forward to seeing this French film starring Maria Falconetti.

I'm schedule to have a solo show of my Jeanne d'Arc paintings in a couple months at Zeitgeist in Pittsfield and we may show some of the films there.



January 3, 2009

The late afternoon sun cast shadows on our kitchen cabinets on December 31. On January 1 with the sun low in the sky, the trees in our neighbor's yard cast long shadows on the snow. It was -1 that morning.  For the moment global warming seemed a fantasy.


January 1, 2009


The sun has set on 2008, a year Barack Obama shook things up, the year the war in Iraq was wild before it waned, the year the economic collapse pick pocketed a lot of people.

As the winter sun dropped on a recent day, I shot this picture of the birch on the west side of our house. It was taken from the dining room. While our property is surrounded by trees - two of them giant silver maples - the birch is the only tree that is actually on our lot. And I'm in love with it.

So what's this tree got to do with the new year? Who knows? Maybe I'm a Druid.

Babbie and I watched Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin ring in the New Year from Times Square. They make a terrific comedy team. Everything she says knocks me out. She's outrageous and Anderson's got it down as the straight man.

Our traditional New Year's party was postponed because of the weather. It snowed hard and Rory and Claire had to make a three-hour drive to get here. So today we, they, Lew and Harriet, and hopefully Gae will celebrate.

We get pretty wild. Hope no one calls the cops.


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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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