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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

May 30, 2008

Today's question.  What is this? I took the photo in the kitchen. The first correct answer will win an all expense trip to Peru or Berlin. llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll

What's that line? I just fell asleep at the computer. My finger was on the "L" key. I better sign out.


May 28, 2008

I think this may be a breakthrough painting for me. I think it's pretty wild. You got a look at it lying flat in my May 22 post. I finished a second in this mode Thursday. I'll put it on the blog soon.

This big red beast measures 58"x42". The three lines through the painting were created in the photo by light shinning on the edges of pieces of canvas strips I collaged onto the surface before applying the paint.

One bad thing about this approach - you may see many more - is that it consumes huge quantities of paint. At $50 plus per gallon for this acrylic enamel, that is going to start mounting up. Below is a detail from the painting.



May 26, 2008

Before she heads to church the for Brown University's baccalaureate service Saturday, a young woman's necklace is adjusted by her mother, who has just presented it to her. Her father records the moment.

This is the college's main quadrangle and a sea of chairs, only a fraction of which is seen here, has been set up so families can watch on large TV screens set up on a scaffolding in front of University Hall. The church can only accommodate the graduates. Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, was the speaker. He was brilliant: funny, engaging and on target. I don't think he hit a single graduation speech cliche.

We  were at Brown for Babbie's 50th reunion. Members of her class returned in great numbers. We spent most of our time with Bitsy, Shirley and Bruce. In fact Bruce and I were eating  lunch on the Faunce House terrace when I took the shot at the top.

Babbie's in the one at the left. She's the one in the blue shirt and Brown cap, the one not looking her age. She's cheering on other grads marching down the hill in the traditional graduation ceremony.

Since it was the 50th the college provided free rooms on campus for those who wanted them. We were on the third floor of a fraternity house. Most undergraduates had already left for home but the ones who hadn't partied till dawn Friday and Saturday night.

Babbie's was not the oldest class. Below are the boys of '48 just after their official photograph had been shot. And they weren't the oldest. The classes of '43 and '38 were also back.

Fiftieth reunions fill you with wonder at the aged who come back. And they reinforce the fact that you are now firmly counted in that number. The 50th is a strong reminder that the days are dwindling down. Here's to Babbie's 60th. I hope she lets me tag along.




May 22, 2008

This thing is beautiful. It started out being my second "background" painting (see May 20th's post). But I couldn't get what I wanted. So I started messing around.

This is what I ended up with. I took this shot Wednesday morning while it was lying on a table in my studio. I'd painted it Tuesday afternoon under the canopy beyond the glass doors. I thought it would be dry. It wasn't. Since I have a bad habit of using my finger to find out, I have a fingerprint where I don't want one.

This painting seems like a breakthrough for me in my search for abstraction. And I don't remember seeing one like it before. But every time I think I've done something new, I find it's already been done. One cool thing about it is that it looks three dimensional in places.

Friday we're driving to Providence for Babbie's 50th Brown reunion. She's going to march down the hill with the reunion classes in the graduation ceremony. My 50th was last year but I skipped it because of my bias against puffed-up preppies. Brown had a bumper crop.


May 20, 2008

This is Cathedral (Number 20) only I haven't put the cathedral in yet. Maybe I won't. I'm starting to see the backgrounds as paintings in their own right.

In my May 12 post I showed you the background for Cathedral 19. The next day I added the cathedral. But I was starting to wonder then about the background thing. Well that happened to me again Sunday.

While I was thinking about all this I stumbled across a web site about Mark Rothko's move toward abstraction. You can see from the top painting on the right, done in 1945, that he was moving toward his classic phase. To get there, as he would do several years later, he had to remove the foreground.

The glowing Rothko below it shows what he could do when he finally found the format that made him one of the most famous painters in the 20th century. This one is Orange and Tan done in 1954.

I hope I'm not suggesting that I'm on Rothko's path. And there is definitely a Rothko influence in my painting at the top. But to me this is a  dark landscape with stormy sky and rain. I'm trying that again on Cathedral 21.

This time for the first time in this series I made a patchwork canvas. It is composed of four scraps of unprimed canvas gessoed together. You can see the divisions in the photo.

I'm trying to figure out how to boost my hours in the studio. When I started painting seriously I was putting in seven or eight hours a day. After one grinding summer, I found that was  too draining. I cut back, and for a long time was probably averaging five hours at a time for years. But in the last year or so I'm not in the studio long enough. That shouldn't be a problem for someone who doesn't have a job. But things start crowding in. It was making me feel a little desperate last week. So I'm starting to fight back.






May 18, 2008

What's that greenish thing against the dark cloud in the top center of this shot? A UFO? I took it from the Stop & Shop parking lot at Coltsville during my Thursday night exile.

I was there killing time after taking in Third Thursday downtown. I drank some milk and ate a couple cereal bars that I picked up in the supermarket and I took five photos of the lights and sky. This was the only one that the airplane-shaped object appeared in. I hadn't noticed it when I was taking the shots. Maybe it was simply a reflection in my camera lens. If it was something in the sky, at least no one beamed me up.

Once years ago when I was driving home from work about 2 a.m., I saw a stationary bright light above the old Pontoosuc Worsted Mill near the lake. I thought at first it must be mounted on top of a high smoke stack, although I couldn't remember a stack there. Suddenly it moved very fast in a straight line northeast and disappeared. I never figured out what that was either.

P.S. I was in exile because Babbie's book club was meeting in the house.



May 16, 2008

Johnny Mystic the comic magician leaves his audience open mouthed at last night's  Third Thursday in downtown Pittsfield. While everyone else seems to be wondering "how'd he do that," the guy in the upper right looks like he's seen enough.

Johnny had the crowd eating out of his hand. But he wasn't feeding  the group the apples, oranges or the coconut he managed to coax out from under the cups and his hat.

I snapped this shot, along with about 140 others, while touring the first Third Thursday of the season, with my daughter Shannon and her husband Paul (arms folded in the khaki jacket) and my granddaughter Riley. That's her on the right, the only straphanger on the trolley making the rounds of events.

One of the highlights of the evening was the young Great Barrington rapper Jackson Tynan Whalan who had the crowd at the main stage on its feet and boogying. That included the two kids at the left above. Below is a shot of two girls dancing as Tynan raps what he writes. I bought his CD, Revolution Solution, and listened from beginning to end. This kid has it. The CD was good company as I took the Prius up Route 7 to kill time. Babbie was having her book club at our house last night and I'm under a standing order to vacate when that happens.


May 14, 2008

Here's Cathedral (Number 18), the one I showed you in process in my May 10 post. The only thing added is the blue pour.

This is the first one in a while where there is no fire, although there is something fire like in the shapes themselves. The painting is 36" x 24" and is acrylic enamel on a store-bought canvas. (I usually build my own stretchers. But I ran into some good sales, one at Miller Supply locally, and the other at one of my favorite catalogue stores, ASW, and picked a bunch up. It saves a lot of time.

I'm picking Riley up at school this afternoon and we'll play basketball, although I'm a little shot from stomping around in the woods with Al and Tom in search of wetlands and intermittent streams. That trekking is connected with our search for ammunition in the bargaining process with Black Pearl and the city in connection with the 129 units the developer plans to build on the YMCA property across the street.



May 12,  2008

Two days ago I showed you one of my paintings in process in my cellar studio. Yesterday it was so warm I worked under the Big Top in the Pit outside the studio's sliding glass doors. On the left you can see the gallons of acrylic enamel I'm using these days.

My outdoor studio is a 10' x 10' canopy that I first used last year. Sigmar Polke, the German artist, works under a tent too. Below is Sigmar in his outdoor studio. It's a little grander than mine. The photo was taken by Albrecht Fuchs for the New York Times. Polke(pronounced polka)calls it his summer atelier. He's an old man. But not as old as me.

He's know as the master of the unexpected. That title could be applied to me, if you subtracted the word master. I'm always shifting gears.

On my easel, which is really a ladder, is the background for Cathedral (Number 19). Maybe my next series will be nothing but backgrounds. This one is like a landscape. When I was doing it I was thinking of a title: The Rain Fell in Torrents on the Fields of Wheat. Then I started pouring the paint for the cathedral. I liked it better the way it was.



May 10, 2008

Here you can get an idea of how the Cathedral series is being painted. I'm not using brushes but yogurt cups, jars, cat food cans, etc., to pour the paint down the slanted surface of the canvas.

In this shot the canvas is flat. But during the pouring its almost vertical. I lean the canvas from side to side to guide the paints as it flows.

This one is Cathedral (Number 18). I may do more with it. I may not.



May 8, 2008

Viewer ship is off and I'm afraid I'm driving readers away with my long string of Cathedrals. This one is number 17. Number 18 is in process. Take heed. More are on the way.

Like the painting in my May 4 post, this is a modest 36"x24" and it's painted - if you call pouring paint down an upright canvas painting - with the acrylic enamel and gold gesso.

Color reproduction in this photo is not terribly accurate. The yellow should be more orange, the bright red redder. But I took photos of the painting three different times and the coloring was off in all of them and I wasn't able to quite bring it around in the electronic darkroom.



May 6, 2008

One aspect of Spring is this rivulet still laden with pine needles and leaves from Fall. A few green chutes are poking through on its banks. It is located in the woods across the street.

Another aspect of our Spring is development.

I took this shot Sunday when Babbie and I were wandering through the 77-acre YMCA property across from our house. A few years ago the neighborhood fought off a development there of 375 timeshares. But it was just a matter of time until a new project was proposed for the land, called Ponterril, which the Y is trying to sell. Because of the depression in the housing market, we hadn't expected it so soon.


Black Pearl, the developer who brought us the timeshares, a classic example of overkill, is back, this time with 129 units of condominiums. They range in size from single-family to six units.

Last evening the neighbors mulled the situation over at our house. Because the new "flexible zoning" that allows the condominiums is in place and the permit required comes from the same board that favored the timeshares, we know we can't stop the project.

We will try to work with the city planners to make it as palatable as possible. The ordinance puts some good things in place. For instance Black Pearl seems to want to clear cut the woods on the section of the property overlooking Pontoosuc Lake. Fortunately the ordinance makes provisions for protecting the tree canopy and views into and out of the property. It also requires that 25 percent of the acreage be set aside as open space. The section the developer has designated is the edge of the big woods that spreads out to the GEAA golf course, the Piggery, Oak Hill, and the ridge that leads to the Mall Road.

I'm afraid this woods of hundreds of acres is doomed in the long run.

Already two condo developments grace the farm fields abutting one side of our street. This new project will go up on the other side of us. Not too many years ago condos were built at the foot of our street.

Once surrounded by a sea of open space, our neighborhood of a dozen cottages built in the 1930s within a few years will be surrounded by a sea of condos - almost 300 in total. And in a community whose population was cut by 20 percent when GE closed its plant here, most of the buyers are second homers.

While some of the Y land is wooded, much of it is in fields as in the shot below. Those pines are very old and very tall. We hope we can keep Black Pearl from bulldozing them all.






May 4, 2008

This is Cathedral (Number 16) - again. I repainted the fire at the bottom. You can take a look at the previous version on my April 17 post.

The color reproduction was better in the April shot. But I like the composition better now.

Babbie and I went up to Papyri Books in North Adams for a book signing by our friend Derek Gentile, an Eagle reporter. The Vanilla Envelope is his eighth book and his first novel. Babbie's almost halfway through it already. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Afterwards we dropped in at MASS MoCA to get a cup of coffee and look at Anselm Kiefer's scorched earth war paintings. They blow me away. I keep coming back to look at them.

And I'm becoming attached, as well, to his Etroits sont les Vaisseaux (Narrow Are the Vessels) 2002, an 82-foot-long work of cast concrete, exposed rebar, and lead. MoCA says rolling ribbons of concrete evoke "rubble, the aftermath of war, natural disaster, and structural failure of immense proportions." That fits. My first impression was that it looks like the elevated freeway collapse in the 1989 San Francisco earthquake.



May 2, 2008

Here's a wild and wonderful photograph. It was taken by Daniel Canogar, a Spanish artist, and is being shown at the Berlin Biennial.

From what I've read, which admittedly isn't a great deal, I can't figure out how he does this. But this information from the current artkrush, the online art journal you can get at, says:

"On the first floor dozens of red, arterial fiber-optic cables gracefully float in space, each tentacle ending in a miniature projection system. The Spider series includes three such sets, which cast images of clothed bodies entangled in wires onto the walls of the darkened gallery.

  "The predicament of these tragic figures, who are both bound and supported by their restraints, manifests the double-edged sword of our information society."

So here's a picture, also from artkrush, of what they're describing. To get the 59-inch wide photo at the top , I guess he shoot the result. Setting it all up must be time consuming and fun. All this reminds me of Sir Walter Scott's lines: "Oh, what a tangled web we weave/when first we practice to deceive."

I would have bet it was Shakespeare. When I found it was Scott, it brought back my brush with him in college. I was going into the final exam without having read the last book assigned - Scott's Heart of Midlothian. I thought I might bluff my way through. But as it turned out we had to write an essay on a particularly searching question. And it counted for one third of the mark. I got an E and came out of the course with a D. Which was a gift.

This last image is a Canogar photomural at the biennial. How's that for being wired? It runs through May 13. Let's go.



May 1, 2008

This is Cathedral (Number 5). It's been reworked a lot from the original, which I decided I didn't like. I'll show you the original version below so you can see what's been happening.

Major changes were made Monday. I still didn't like it. So I poured more paint yesterday. The original had a cleanness of line to commend it. But it seemed too simple, too geometric. Which version do you like better?

Yesterday after school Riley, Babbie and I went to Dottie's coffee house for a treat.

Riley picked her favorite table. It's round and the top is covered with pages snipped from old books. Riley, who's sharp eyed, long ago discovered this table can be used to tell your fortune. Two of the aged pages contain fortune telling charts.

So Riley told our fortunes and we told hers. Not just once, but at her insistence, but repeate The most interesting I got was: "You will thrice wed and die a widow." We decided it was all right to convert the gender to widower. Say I live to 80, that means I have to get married twice in the next seven years and that the last wife will die
before I do.

"After all that, Babbie (my first and present wife) will probably shoot me," I told Riley.

"I'd never shoot him," Babbie said. "I'll just trip him."

Riley thought that was hysterical. Then we went home and Riley showed us how to take weird pictures (like the one above) on the iMac. It was a good afternoon.



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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