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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

June 29, 2007

This is a detail from And She Was All of Solid Fire, one of the large paintings at my current show.

I'm showing you this to give you an idea of what some of the very big pieces look like when you get close to them.

A lot of people coming to the show seem intrigued by the hieroglyphics I've been using on the Dresden Firebombing series. These aren't the first time I've used them. But I thought they worked well with Dresden. Because it was such a horrendous event, I wanted some commemorative writing in them. I thought real words would be too literal and distracting.

I think the late Francis Bacon would have been interested in how I did this painting. Not because he would have liked the image but because I continued working on it after the show was hung. He was famous for doing that. This is Bacon's "Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X" done in 1953.

On another note, tomorrow is my birthday. I will be 72. I have already received a birthday present. A woman who bought four of my Scarlet Letter Wall paintings told me she would like five more. If she actually buys them, that would bring the total sold from that series to 17, 13 of them during the show that started June 1. It is up through August 15 at the Lenox Library.

June 27, 2007

By his own count Alex Katz has painted more than 250 portraits of his wife Ada since meeting her in 1957.

This one, one of my favorite paintings, is called The Red Coat. I have a big Whitney Museum poster of the work, which Katz did in 1983. (See my March 22 post.) But I had never seen the real thing until Tuesday at the New York State Museum at Albany.

In the flesh - all 8' x 4' of it - the painting is even more imposing than I had expected it to be. There is a small painting of Ada in a Black Scarf from 1996 that showed her much older but still proud and handsome.

In the pamphlet for the show, a traveling exhibition from the Whitney, curator Dana Miller says many artists would find it tiresome to paint the same subject so often.

"It's like a challenge," Katz said. "You can't put your foot into the same river twice. The river has changed. It's a state of being alive to say that you're different, that everything's different, and trying to find the differences.

The painting, along with 29 other Katz works - many of them smaller studies and prints - is on view in Albany through August 19. Take a look if you get a chance.

After the museum Nancy, Babbie and I bought sandwiches and ate them on a bench in Gov. Nelson Rockefeller's always amazing Empire State Plaza. Spray from one of the fountains in the lagoon occasionally reached us, helping tame the near-90 temperature. Then we took a look at the Antoni Milkowski sculpture which is installed beneath the overhang of the Egg - a performing arts center that is a sculpture in its own right. Both are pictured above.

Then yesterday when our art group was at Susan's I saw an almost identical Milkowski in an unmowed pasture near his studio. The fields are dotted with his monumental, minimalist work. The property, including a lovely colonial house is for sale. If you'd like to live with a little art history and a lot of art, you can buy it.

Some months ago Susan gave me a pair of her ex-husband's welding glasses and miscellaneous scraps of stainless steel and aluminum. I used his glasses in a piece that is part of the Scarlet Letter Wall. (See the June 11 post.)


June 24, 2007

This is my latest painting. I've been working on it on and off - mostly off - for the last month. For a while I was scared, thinking I'd never paint again.

It's oil on canvas, a little taller than I am. At times I'm tempted to paint over it. (Did I hear clapping? That's not supposed to be an applause line.) Instead I just keep adding layers of paint, changing shapes , etc. I don't really know which side is up. I've only looked at it this way so far.

It started out as one of my Dresden paintings. I had cut the figure of a small boy out of plywood and charred it with a propane torch. I was going to attach it somewhere near the center over the stained glass and then go very dark around the outsides of the painting. That I'll save for another painting.

The idea to paint stained glass came from the large angel wing in the Dresden series. (See my June 8 post) Who knows, maybe I'll do a stained glass series. Today I put three or four hours in on the painting. Outside, working under a startlingly blue sky on a cool and windy afternoon.

I'm painting under a white tent. I put it up a week or two ago. The canopy, 10' x 10', is in "the pit" outside the sliding glass door to my studio in the cellar. I started painting outside last summer when Babbie gave me a blue canopy for my birthday. A victim of a severe thunderstorm, it only survived one season. So I bought a sturdier one this year. Hope it lasts because I love working there.

Sigmar Polke, the great German artist, paints under a big tent in the summer. He calls it his atelier, the French word for studio. Atelier also carries the connotation of being the home of an alchemist or wizard. I like that. So this will be my atelier.


June 22, 2007

I ordered these pants on line today from Macy's. They're made by American Rag, designed for males 55 years younger than me, were on sale for $33.95 and satisfied a deep inner need for unnecessary zippers and seams.

They have an print on the back pocket - I have no idea of what because all you could see on line was the front. But I can always paint over the back pocket. I'm buying red fabric paint to paint the scarlet A on T-shirts to sell in conjunction with the special event Juliane Haim will stage at the library August 5 in conjunction with my show.

The special event will include a reading from her play about

Hawthorne and Melville that was staged two years ago at Tanglewood's Ozawa Hall. Jane Fonda and Melissa Torme were in the cast. She's also writting a monologue for the Scarlet Letter. The occasion will benefit the library. At least we hope it will benefit the library. I hope you'll come.

Juliane, widely known in the Berkshires as Jacuzzi because of a column she used to write for The Eagle, continues the column on her webpage: Try it, you'll like it. That's Juliane in the picture with the red boarder. I hope she doesn't mind me swiping the image from her webpage. Scarlet Letter T-shirts, by the way, were her idea.

But back to the American Rags with the zippers. Will I look foolish in them? Probably. But at 71 - a week shy of 72 - Babbie says you can wear what you want, even if you look foolish.

So if you see an old man with pants with zippers where none are needed and a print of a dragon or something like that on his back pocket and a T-shirt with a scarlet A on it, that will be me. That will be me.


June 20, 2007

This is a picture I made of my wife Babbie in 2004. It's big, 86" x 46" and its origin was a snapshot Patti Elger took at a Berkshire Eagle Christmas party in the 60's or early 70's.

This piece was created by running the snapshot through a Xerox machine at Staples and then blowing up that sheet, and each subsequent sheet 200 percent, until when you put them all together what you had was 21 times the size of the original. If you look closely you can see where the Xeroxes overlap where they are pasted together. Making one of these from 8 x 11 sheets of paper takes a long time, both at the copier and in the living room assembling the pieces on the floor.

She doesn't like me to write about her. But I'm going to and feel pretty safe doing it because she doesn't usually read it. Blogs, she says, are all "Me, Me, Me." Babbie was beautiful and I remember how wonderful she looked in that particular top. She had lovely, strong shoulders and arms. A lovely face. And that smile. There were times then when the intensity of being with her was almost overwhelming. I shouldn't talk about her beauty in the past tense. She still is. But it's different, too. Her's is a calming presence now. We talk. We laugh. We enjoy each other's company. We're in love (I shouldn't speak for her, but I'm confident that statement's true) and we're at peace with each other. Yet I find it stirring when she says my name.

It was hard to be young sometimes and sometimes it's hard not being young. There are losses and there are gains.

In the novel Grendel, John Gardner wrote, "Things fade." That's true, but it's not the whole truth.




June 18, 2007

This amazing piece of art was done by El Anatsui of Nigeria. It is made of flattened liquor bottle caps and aluminum cans bound together by copper wire.

This shot of El Anatsui's piece at the Venice Biennale appeared in the New York Times June 15 and was taken by Librado Romero.

This is a work of genius. It is ravishing. It is sensual. Take a look at some more of his pieces. Like the one at the top, they are fabricated of large quantities of discarded metal liquor bottle wrappers and tops and flattened cans laboriously stitched together.

This is real alchemy. Rumplestiltskin, who could spin straw into gold, would have been hard pressed to execute this magic. The undulating metal tapestries are in the Ghanaian tradition of weaving and assembling kente cloth, according to authorities.

“Art grows out of each particular situation and I believe that artists are better off working with whatever their environment throws up,” Anatsui has said.

Born in 1944 in Ghana, El Anatsui lives and works in Nigeria and is a professor of sculpture at the University of Nigeria.




June 16, 2007

Evalene peruses the great outdoors from our front porch in this shot which is part of my Inside Out series. She loves to be outside. Even though she's 14 years old, she'll still sprint across the yard, stop, then charge off in another direction.

Looking out from the inside a house can make compelling pictures. I always liked this one by Edward Hopper called Rooms by the Sea. I could never figure out, however, why the door was located where it is. If you stepped through it, you would plunge into the water.

I have set up Wednesday afternoons where I will be at the Lenox Library to talk to people about my show there. My first foray into accessibility was this week. I brought too books and the Boston Globe, thinking I would have few visitors during the three hours I was scheduled to be there.

I only read two pages. The rest of the time I was talking with people who dropped in to see the paintings. Joe and Dick came as did Bill. Diane brought a friend whose name I've forgotten. Then Jerry, who I'd never met, dropped in and talked about the Dresden paintings. He had come to see them because of his interest in the firebombings. We hit it off right away and I'm headed to Stockbridge next week to have a drink with him.

Oh by the way, Judy visited too, and bought four paintings, all from the Scarlet Letter series. The brings the total sales so far to eight.

If you'd like to drop in on a Wednesday afternoon, I'd love to talk with you. This is the schedule: June 20 and 27; July 18 and 25; August 1, 8 and 15. I'll be there from 1 to 4. The show runs through August 15. You can see it Tuesdays through Saturdays during library hours - 10 to 5.


June 15, 2007

An amazing thing happens to me after I watch movies. Within a day or two I usually have forgotten what movie I saw, what it was about and who was in it.

I just saw Kate Winslet in Little Children a few days ago and couldn't remember the plot until I reread A.O. Scott's review in the New York Times last night. I was rereading it because I loved the movie. I'd like movies and novels and people's faces to stick in my mind, but it's Teflon when it comes to this stuff.

It's that fear that drives me to keep a file of movies I've seen, complete with reviews and photos, so I can reconstruct them.

I think Babbie can remember the plot and stars of every movie she's ever seen.

Last night Babbie, Shannon and I saw Waitress with Keri Russell, pictured above. I've been a fan of hers every since her Felicity days on TV and kept wondering why she wasn't making it big in the movies.

Well, this should launch her. She was wonderful in this warm, funny, sad movie written, directed and acted in by Adrienne Shelly, who was murdered before the film reached the screen. We watched it at the Little Cinema, which has uncomfortable seats and a an audience so old they should stash a defibrillator in the projection booth. After the uplifting ending, the audience applauded. I haven't seen that happen too often.


June 13, 2007

This is our new car. We drove three hours to Danvers in a slashing rain storm to buy it. I never thought I would love a slow car. But it was love at first drive.

It's a Toyota Prius, a hybrid, and after 445 miles of driving we are averaging 52.3 miles per gallon. That's pretty wild. I would have averaged maybe 22 in my Odyssey van. So we did the 445 miles in less than nine gallons. The Odyssey would have gulped about 20.

We bought it from Ira Toyota in Danvers because our local dealer would only come down $300. Ira offered a no-hassle discount of about $1,700.

We'd been looking sporadically for a car to replace Babbie's 1996 SAAB turbo since last fall. I used to like to pass cars in that SAAB. Throw it down into 4th and floor it and all of a sudden you were hitting 80 or 90. We tried a Ford Fusion, which we liked, and a Nisson Altima, ditto, but the seats felt uncomfortable. Neither got good enough mileage. We tried a Honda Civic. I liked it a lot. Babbie didn't. Then we looked at a Hyundai Elantra. You got a lot of extras for a cheap price. But it was ugly. Then we tried the Prius, not once but twice. I had worked hard to convince Babbie we should try one. She was skeptical. It was an elitist car, she said. But when she tried it, she finally found what she wanted. Then I became the skeptic. I didn't like driving it.

But I wanted to get it anyway because she liked it and the idea of great mileage and low pollution interested us. We felt we'd be in on the vanguard of a new technology.

Boy was I wrong about about the car. While I used to love the rumble of V8s - how long has it been since I had one of those - I love the silence of this little beauty. I love the way it handles. But most of all I love trying to squeeze a little more mileage out of it.

Our next door neighbor Tom said yesterday that he saw me driving up our hill so slowly he thought it must be a little old lady. I was trying to get up using the electric motor only. On the Turnpike I tuck in behind slow trucks going uphill, not to draft, but so I can ease off the gas pedal without creating my own little bottleneck.

I keep glancing over at the graphics that display your current gas mileage and what's running - the electric engine, the gas engine, or both. Sometimes I feel like there's a giant rubber band restraining my foot from pushing on the gas pedal. I did floor it to pass another car Sunday. It passed OK. Then I remembered you're not supposed to punch the pedal until the odometer hits 600 miles. Anyway, it's a new game and I like playing it.


June 11, 2007

The reception Friday night was a real party. A lot of people came. A lot of people said nice things.

I am looking at the comment book, and, throwing modesty to the wind, here is some of what was said:

"Breathtaking, truly."

"What a great, eye-stopping show"

"It's very moving, startling, powerful - your passion, intensity are on that incredible wall."

"I'm spellbound."

"Your show takes my breath away."

"P. S. I loved the food."

Myself, I loved the cream puffs. Granted, the crowd for the most part was made up of friends. But I've never had comments like this in another show. It made me feel great. So far, seven of the paintings have found new homes. They include Blinded by the Light and Heart of Stone. The 31-foot Scarlet Letter Wall, sponsored by the Sue A. and Robert H.Gersky Foundation, drew the most attention and comment. Of the Dresden Firebombing paintings, the one that people most often pointed out as their favorite was Remberance of Things Past, with its deep deep Alizarin Crimson and gold.

The thing ran 3 hours and 15 minutes. I tried to talk with everyone but felt badly the next day because I had spent little time with some people I would have liked to talk to extensively. My son Eric and a friend Barney were taking pictures. So I should be able to show you some soon. I don't know how many people were there but from 5 after 5 until quarter of 8 the place was jammed.

Babbie's sister Carol, Carol's husband Joerg, my daughter Shannon, and our friend Linda all converged on the library about 4 p.m. and got the food and drink set up just in time. My granddaughter Riley, who has two paintings included in the 104 in the Scarlet Letter, was the early host. She stood at the door and would say, "Welcome to the Scarlet Letter" as people entered. Then she had a wonderful time talking to people and showing them her paintings. She's 7 and she's exuberant.

What did I wear? My orange Bermudas with 13 pockets and a bright shirt. I figure artists usually wear black so I'd try something else. And how about the talk I was going to give? I didn't give it. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, I figured, why spoil it.


June 8, 2007

The reception, so distant for so long, is here.

It's like Christmas has finally arrived.

Will there be 20 people or 150? Will the show be a hit or a flop?

Will I be a wild child or a wallflower?

Then there's the big question.

"What are you going to wear?" Babbie asks.

"I don't know."

"You better decide."

I had been thinking of something to go along with my fashionista alter ego (See April 1 post). How about black tights under my orange shorts. I tried it out. She thought that was a little girlish.

I'll probably end up with black pants and a black shirt. Too arty.

A few years ago I was asked what my favorite color is. Blue. Blue? When I look around the gallery at the Lenox Library, there isn't much blue. But you know what color there is a lot of.

I could wear that color. Then I'd blend in with the paintings.

In A Map of Dresden, top left, blue shows up in a couple places. It looks great against the red. In Her Wing Was All of Solid Fire, top right, there's some blue.

Then there is Of Time and the River, my largest painting. Ample opportunity for blue in a canvas this size. But I can't find any. Sometimes when I start a painting I'm determined not to be garish. Subdued coloring was what I was shooting for in Of Time and the River. Then when I was through I looked at it and realized it was missing something. So I poured on red.

A friend of mine was looking at the show yesterday and he noted that there's a lot of red. Which is what got me thinking about it.

For better or worse, red is my color. By the way if you'd like to come to the reception, it's from 5 to 8 today at the Lenox Library. Better wear sunglasses.


June 6, 2007

Here's the Scarlet Letter Wall, all 30 feet and 104 paintings of it. Some of the paintings had been falling to the floor last week. But I took them all down, fixed the problem and they're secure now.

No one's going to be impaled by the heavy Bed of Nails crashing. I've been moving paintings around. I'll be moving them around some more. Not sure how people will react to the combination of the Scarlet Letter Wall with six Dresden Firebombing paintings on the other three walls.

They are united thematically in a way because, as it is often practiced, all is fair in love and war.

But the real reason they're hung in the same show is simply that these are the paintings I've been working on since mid-2005.

So here we've got And She Was All of Solid Fire hanging check by jowl with Hester Prynne.

As you can see from the angel, I haven't gotten the gallery's lighting under control yet. And I'm afraid, after fooling around with it several hours, that I'm going to end up with glare on those with glossy surfaces.

The reception is this Friday from 5 to 8 at the Lenox Library. Why don't you drop in and join the crowd.

Remember, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler.


June 4, 2007

I've been showering you with pictures that are in the show. Here's one that isn't. But as I post it I start thinking maybe I will rotate pictures in and out of the Dresden portion.

What we've got here is my first painting of the Angel of Incineration. Like most of the paintings in the Dresden series, this one was painted over an older portrait of Anita McFarland. Both the old and new had collaged elements. So you end up with collage on collage. This is the head section. As you can see, I retained part of the old portrait in the new painting. The bomb is the collaged element on the new work.

In this guise Anita became the Angel riding the incendiary bombs falling on Dresden, Germany, in the late stages of WWII. In this painting the individual bursts of flame are just starting to merge into the wind-whipped conflagration that took countless lives. Most of the victims were women, children and old men. Men of fighting age were at the front.


June 2, 2007

Down at the Lenox Library, where my show officially opened yesterday, a few of the 104 paintings on the Scarlet Letter wall have been falling like overripe apples.

That's a little disconcerting. Thursday a heavy one broke free and crash landed, amazingly without damage. Then yesterday afternoon when I entered the gallery I found another on the floor. While I was there a third, the one pictured, fell flat on it's face. It's made of Level Best on a framework of aluminum wire. It didn't even crack. By the way, this one, which represents Dimmesdale, was inspired by an ancient Greek sculpture I saw at the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth.

We figured out the problem. To hang them we had stapled four rows of Velcro horizontally across the wall Thursday and then applied strips of adhesive backed Velcro to the paintings themselves.

The backing clings like crazy to those paintings that had copper or aluminum backs. But it doesn't adhere as well to canvas or wood. So yesterday I started stapling the Velcro to the heaviest paintings. This afternoon I have to go back and staple them all. A tedious process but it should solve the problem.

Yesterday I took some paints to the library and touched up two of the Dresden paintings whose surfaces had been slightly damaged. And I worked on the face of the angel in "And She Was All of Solid Fire." It looked great in some lights but awful in others.

In the next few days I will start showing pictures of the installation.



June 1, 2007

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed...Walt Whitman's great lines about Lincoln's death come back when I look at this lilac in our side yard.

But the elegiac sadness of the line is overcome by the sheer beauty of this bush this spring. The huge silver maple over in Woody and Rose's yard overhangs the lilac, which was transplanted to this location in 1970 to make way for the addition to our house. (See bottom photo.)

In back, the spirea - we call it beauty bush - is in full flower on either side of the steps to the dining room.

These shots were taken early in the morning. The small one has that circle in the center because it was shot into the sun. The grass was lush and wet with dew. I love winter best. But on a morning like this on the last day of May, I can be tempted to become a turncoat.

Later in the morning Babbie and I went down to the Lenox Library and put up the Scarlet Letter wall. Now that was a project. But a laser level Paul lent us and 25 yard rolls of Velcro saved the day. If you believe the card I sent out, the show starts today. But it's a little ragged right now.



Seth Harwood, writer

Leslie, poet

Joe Goodwin, painter

Juliane: bimbopolitics

Lisa Reinke, painter

John Mitchell, commentary

Charles Guiliano, MAVERIC, art critic

Saatchi Gallery


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