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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man


November 29, 2007


This is Rebekah in front of My Shaman, a transcendent painting by Paul Graubard of Lenox.

Once two separate paintings, one a portrait of his wife Karen and the other a portrait of her mind, Paul put them together almost accidentally.

“It started out as Karen’s Vision and became My Shaman,” Paul says as he tries to  reconstruct the event. The painting of his wife, a successful writer and poet, is collaged onto the larger canvas that was Karen’s Vision.

“I was making Karen’s Vision and the portrait of Karen that I had done was just laying around the studio. Karen was up here and just put one on top of the other.
And wow. It was a real good fit.”

The work surrounding the portrait celebrates their love, her poetry, their transcendental experiences in India several years ago, all the while trying to capture his vision her mind. “It includes a lot of personal things about her,” he says of the painting of Karen, who he married in 1984.I edited this post today (November 1) to include this photo of Karen. If I'd had my act together when I started this  blog I would have gotten a shot of My Shaman with Karen standing next to it.

Paul and I have been sketching, painting and photographing Rebekah, a terrific kid, in his studio on North Street down the hall from a bowling alley.

Paul is an outsider artist who in the last few years has started gaining recognition. A number of his paintings have been shown at the American Visionary Art Museum on the waterfront in Baltimore, a magical place that owns two of his works. Two of his pieces are on display there now.

Paul was born in Elizabeth, N.J., 75 years ago. He dropped out of school in 10th grade to hitchhike around the country.
Later he got his high school equivalency, went to college, married his first wife and settled down in New York City.

From his web page, you learn he worked as a teacher, professor, and a psychologist, always finding work that gave him the autonomy he craved. His eldest daughter Risa’s untimely death from cancer hit him hard, setting off a period of too much drinking and smoking.

“On a whim, and maybe out of desperation, he started to draw," Paul says in his blog, writing in the third person. "Two years later (about 1997) he discovered painting, gave up his practice as a psychologist and has been working full time as a painter since then. He believes that stumbling on art saved his well-being, if not his life.”

Paul’s father was born in Romania and “Romania, Romania, a Yiddish song extolling wine, women, song and food, was his father’s favorite,” Paul writes. “I heard it sung often as a child and loved its zest. When I paint and get lucky, that spirit overtakes me."

If you look at his web page,, you will see that more often than not the spirit is with him.

Paul is represented by Gallerie Bonheur in St. Louis, Church Street Art Gallery in Lenox and The Outsiders Art Gallery in Cornwall Bridge, Conn.


November 27, 2007


Golden chainmail surrounded this doorknob as the sun struck it Sunday morning. So I grabbed my Canon.

This is the door to the downstairs  bathroom - or my bathroom as we've called it since Babbie had the one upstairs remodeled and we designated it hers.

This is the inside of the door. In 1971 I painted it aluminum, a color Jackson Pollack elevated to stardom in his drip paintings. And it hasn't been repainted since. How could you repaint it when it's a piece of art? The outside of the door is painted white, like the rest of the addition. And it has been repainted.

So here you get a shot of the full door, my John with its yellow fixtures and burnt sienna tiles that I installed myself about the same time I painted the door with its orange sword.

The  painting behind the door is Red Riding Hood on My Mind - part of the Horner Method series, and one of my favorites.

The photo of the doorknob includes a self portrait. You have to look hard to find it. And there's a nice coincidence about the picture of the door: its color matches the concrete tunnel wall in my November 24 post.


November 24, 2007

This gold graffiti graces an end section of the concrete tunnel that connects us to the lake when we're on our walks through the YMCA woods and fields.

The tunnel was installed under Route 7 when it underwent a major overhaul in 1995. The idea was to provide a way for Y campers to get to the Y's boathouse without having to risk Route 7 traffic.

It did that job well until the boathouse was condemned by the city a few years ago and the campers couldn't use it anymore. And last summer the Y shifted the location of the camp to the other side of town. The YMCA property, almost 80 lovely acres, is for sale.

I could never figure out what the gold paint says. But there is an abstract beauty to it. There are other sections like the one below that are easy to read. It makes you wonder who Jasmine and Crystal are. There are other words, dirty words, that are easy to read too.



NOVEMBER 22, 2007

Woke up this mornin to Andy Warhol hair.

Oh I woke up this mornin to that Andy Warhol hair.

Went off to find my camera

   Just to show that slept-on flair.

You know that blues standard, don't you?. So for Thanksgiving I decided to put this shot of a bad hair morning on my blog. Of course mine isn't as out there as Warhol's. But he was working with a wig. What's this got to do with Thanksgiving? I know, it's more in keeping with Halloween.

Williams College owns this Warhol self portrait below and it's always been one of my favorites. This is their web photo of the piece, but I think it's a lot more yellow in real life.

It's interesting how hair can make the man. I mean Andy wasn't that impressive looking in real life.

But he's unforgettable in this shot that he silk screened on canvas. As usual there are copies in various colors.


November 20, 2007

It once was lost but now it's found. Here's the Kiefer-influenced painting I had planned to show you in my November 14 blog but couldn't find.

I came across it the other day in an obscure corner of my studio. (All its corners are obscure.) So here it is. Like the one in my last post, this canvas is edged with wire netting - a look that's growing on me. And both are part of the Continental Drift series.

Unlike the one in the last post it is subdued. This one was started after I returned from the Anselm Kiefer show at MASS MoCA in North Adams early this month. (See November 3) Under his spell I mixed fireplace ashes into the paint and kept the colors somber. You can get an idea of what the ashes did to the surface from the detail on the right. A few days later I decided to add some color because it was altogether too bleak. So I spread red, lavender, violet and blue on it and came up with this.


November 18, 2007

I've told you how I am feeling a pull toward abstraction but at the same time don't want to abandon figurative painting.

So right now doing both - not only because I like both but because I have no confidence with abstraction.

Friday night I complete the piece above in a series I'm calling Continental Drift. It's the third. I used a canvas on which strips of wire mesh infringed on the edges of the painting surface.

Then on Saturday I did a sketch of Marion Cotillard (See November 10) on a piece of canvas gessoed gold. The eventual painting will be 49" by 64". In this shot taken last night in my studio, my recent painting of Cotillard is being used as the reference for the sketch. The writing on the wall above the small painting is "Sooner or Later the Lion," a painting title that has been there for years. The canvas is tacked to the wall, the way I almost always painted until I got deeply into the Scarlet Letter series in the 12 months that ended in mid-2006. I was using my painting wall to hang these paintings as a steadily growing unit - I eventually did about 130 of them - and ran out of wall space. That forced me to do the next series, the Dresden Firebombing paintings, on stretched canvases propped up against a seven-foot ladder.

I found I liked working on these "easel paintings" just as well. But when I cleared the wall of paitings the other day and tacked a canvas to the wall, I felt a sense of elation. It was a homecoming. After I gessoed it, however, it sat there all gold and virgin for a couple days. For some reason I was afraid to tackle it. I kept making sketches of potential paintings until I finally settled on Cotillard, which had been my original idea. It isn't as if picking one eliminates the others.


November 16, 2007

This is a painting by Bram Bogart, a Dutch born Belgian painter who is 86.  I had never heard of him until I stumbled across his name on the web recently. He's not widely known in America. But he should be. This is powerful stuff.

To get this heroic surface Bogart mixes paint with mortar and trowels it on thick. These paintings are big - although he does small-scale work as well - and they weigh a ton. This one is called Ginder and was done in 1963. But Bogart is apparently still working. This is a photo of him plying his trade.

So what we have here, truly, is a portrait of the artist as an old man.

His technique, while bearing no resemblance to Anselm Kiefer's (See my November 3 post), is related in the use of unusual materials to create enhanced surfaces. And what surfaces they are.

I've got a 50-pound sack of mortar in the back of my van. (I have been working on repairs to the railroad ties leading down to the Pit behind my studio.)

Not only do I have mortar in common with Bogart, I fancy that I look a little like him. There's that thin mouth, the long upper lip, the bags under the eyes.


November 14, 2007

Which way should I go? The beauty (above)or the beast (below)? That's a question that's been tugging at me since my Lenox show this summer.

Above is a detail of a painting of Anita that's hanging in a Pittsfield office. I did it last year. Actually it was a total repaint, using the underlying portrait as an outline. Below is an abstract I completed the other day. I put the two pictures on the blog today to give you an idea of competing directions at play.

I came away from the Anselm Kiefer exhibit at MASS MoCA in North Adams (see my November 3    post) feeling I'd like a heavy load of sorrow and remorse in my paintings. A friend said I already had that in the Dresden Firebombing paintings.

Anyway the next painting I did, I loaded the paint with ashes from the fireplace and kept the colors subdued - almost dead. A week later I went back and painted in some slightly brighter colors, but still toned down from my usual approach.

I was going to show you that painting today. But I couldn't find it in the studio. Babbie was saying terrible things about it. She wouldn't toss it out. I'm sure.

So I'm showing you this one instead. I like it but I have no confidence in working abstractly. This one has really heavy paint mixed with wax rather than ashes. I actually started it before the Kiefer show. It's small - 18"x14".

As for the competing pull between figurative and abstract, I think I'll go with both - at least for now.


November 12, 2007

There is a room in our house, Shannon's old bedroom, that is now pretty much a closet. I guess you could call it a storage room, a junk room.

Among its contents are wrapping paper for Christmas and birthdays, a suitcase with  rollers, a small vacuum cleaner, framed photographs and prints we don't have space to hang, our old record collection, books, a basket of clothes waiting to be ironed, the big bureau, some drawings from the kids' days at home, window casings pried off to put back up when the sheet rocking is finished.

Sunday morning about 8 I wandered around the house taking pictures of sunlight pouring in. When I ducked into Shannon's room, this was irresistible. What you're seeing is Babbie's bureau caught in a round mirror propped up on the floor. The sun is entering the room through a window above the mirror and hitting the bureau at the other end of the room.

The squiggles above the mirror are the pattern on the seat cushion it leans against.

Two years ago we temporarily moved the bureau into this room from our own bedroom to give us some work space. What we're doing is putting up wallboard, taping the joints and installing new woodwork.

Work has been pretty sporadic. Babbie and I got all but one piece of the sheet rock up and I've taped two walls. That much was completed by last spring. Nothing has been done on the room since then. But Babbie and I are resolved to finish the job this winter.

So many things we want to do. And it seems sometimes like so little time.


November 10, 2007

This is one of a group of quick portraits and landscapes I've been working on lately. The subject here is Marion Cotillard, a French actress.

Unfortunately, she didn't pose for me. But I was arrested by her picture on the front on the New York Times recent Fashion & Beauty issue of its Style Magazine.

As with most of my portraits in recent years, it was done with pallet knives. I thickened the oil paint with wax. Her photo lent itself to an Alex Katzian approach. But where his surfaces were smooth and thin, this is thick and rough. Maybe you can see that a little better in the closeup on the right.

Cotillard played Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose," a role that covered the singer's life from age 17 to her death at 47. It was a brilliant portrayal, physically and emotively. The photo at the bottom shows Cotillard - I love that name - as an aging Piaf. Olivier Dahan, the director, said he wrote the script with Cotillard in mind.

"There was something about Marion's eyes," he said. As Cotillard put it in the Times story, "He saw some tragedy in my eyes, something terribly sad that reminded him of Piaf." The photo below shows the amazing transformation of Cotillard as Piaf.

Asked if she found it more difficult to star in a comedy or a drama, Cotillard said drama.

"It is much easier for me to understand something vast and complex, rather than something light and uncomplicated. Perhaps that makes me very French."

Me, I find it hard to grasp either the vast or the light. But looking at her photo in the Times, I do understand that I shortened her face and exaggerated the contours on the left side. The painting is 18" x 14". I think I'll do a large version as well.


November 8, 2007

I took this shot Monday in Paul Graubard's studio overlooking North Street. The model is 24 and the artists are 72 and 75. For years I've said I wanted to spend my old age like the guy who did the majestic seated Lincoln in Washington.

That guy was Daniel Chester French, whose summer studio, Chesterwood, is about 25 minutes from my house. The white marble sculpture below is in French's studio. And the guide told us years ago it was the last piece French worked on before his death in 1931. He was only a few years older than Paul and I when he translated the woman modeling for him into stone. For years I had thought, "Here was a guy who knew how to go out in style." Andromeda was one of the few sculptures French made for his own enjoyment, rather than as a commission.

So when Paul and I sketch and photograph Rebekah we are doing what French did that made me think of him as a role model. If only we were as good as French.

Andromeda was the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia in Greek mythology. Cassiopeia bragged that she was more beautiful than Juno, the queen of the gods, and the Nereids. In order to avenge the insult to his nymphs, Neptune sent a sea monster to ravage the coast.

The king, informed that Neptune could be appeased by sacrificing Cassiopeia's beautiful daughter to the monster. So Andromeda was chained to a rock on the coast. "Fortunately for her, the hero Perseus happened to be flying by on his way back from killing the Gorgon," as the web site cleverly puts it. No slouch, Perseus dispatched Neptune's onster and married the girl.

Also forutunately for her, a constellation and a galaxy were named after here. Near Andromeda in the night sky are the constellations Perseus and Cassiopeia. I hope they all get along. Eternity is a long time.

My mother was a star gazer and I remember her pointing

Cassiopeia out to me when I was a boy. She probably showed me Cassiopeia's daughter and son-in-law too. Occassionally I wear a black T-shirt with Andromeda silkscreened on the front.


November 6, 2007


Meet Evalene. I snapped her lying in a beam of  sun in the addition Sunday morning. She's about 15 years old, a legacy from our son Mike and his roommate Greg.

Since our dog Max - a legacy from our son Eric - died a few years ago, Evalene has become very vocal. She gives Siamese-like wails when she wants to eat, which is frequently. When she wants attention. When she climbs the stairs to join us in bed.

In the summer she usually doesn't come up until 6 a.m. But now that the weather has turned cold, she heads up to join Babbie at 1 or 2, after getting impatient with me because I'm still on the computer downstairs. She likes to announce her arrival, wailing loudly all the way up the stairs, not stopping until she works her way into the bend of Babbie's knees.

Then when I come up a little later, my legs create a wall on the other side of her and she's snuggly boxed in by mounds of quilt until it's time to wake us up in the morning.


November 3, 2007

MASS MoCA has mounted a stunning show of six monumental paintings by Anselm Kiefer. He is a painter of bleakness and, mildly, hope. He is a painter who grabs you by the throat, by the brain, by the heart and won't let go. I suspect he is one of the great painters of all time.

The painting at the top, all 25 feet of it, is Aperiatur Terra et Germinet Salvatorem (Let the earth be opened and bud forth a savior) and it is one of four of a 2005-2006 series never seen in the United States before. In addition there are two older paintings and a long, long sculpture of structural concrete that looks something like a freeway collapse after the San Francisco earthquake.

Kiefer was born in Germany in 1945  in the last days of the Third Reich. He has never let Germany forget the war entirely, holding up this national wound, tugging at the scab. The field he painted in Aperiatur Terra has been scarred by war, the blooming flowers rising from its charred surface a sign of regeneration.

The surface of these paintings, like the ones I wrote about in my blog April 18 (see archives),
are raw and thick and cracked and gouged. In a video I found on the British Broadcasting Corporation, Kiefer said these paintings had started out as a landscape based on an old photo he had taken. (He takes a camera with him everywhere.) But he wasn't satisfied with the result.

"I put them on the floor and throw earth on it. A lot of earth. And the earth was exposed to the sun...and then it dried and got this cracking...," Kiefer says in the BBC interview.

"The title means a lot - Aperiatur Terra," he says. "I always have titles with not only one sense. Nothing has just one sense...even the truth is wandering around. Sometimes its there and sometimes its there and sometimes there," he says pointing to different places in the gallery.

The dark, brooding Nachricht vom Fall Trojas about the fall of Troy is the first of this series of four you come across at MOCA. The deeply cracked paint creates the effect of a destroyed city. It is a bleak, heart wrenching painting.

"I would never say I'm pessimist or optimist," Kiefer says.
"I would think I would say I'm desperate because I do not know why I’m here. We don't know, we cannot know...The more we know the less we know...Each discovery brings 100 more questions."

Unlike Kiefer, I know why he's here: to paint.



How the Kiefer show got to MASS MoCA

This 80-foot long sculpture by Anselm Kiefer got to MASS MoCA because the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled it is a structure.

A London-based publication, The Art Newspaper, reports that the court upheld a decision by the Fairfield Historic District Commission that the concrete piece had to be removed from Andrew J. Hall's lawn.

Hall is a Connecticut-based energy trader and major collector of works by Kiefer, the newspaper reported.

The Historic Commission said that Kiefer's six-ton work, Narrow are the Vessels, was a structure and therefore required its approval.

In June, the newspaper reported, the court held that the piece was anchored to the ground by its tonnage and gravity and could be considered a structure instead of a sculpture.

Mr Hall disagreed that the Kiefer installation was a "structure" under the terms of the law "because it is neither 'affixed' to the land by direct physical attachment nor embedded in the ground."

As a result of the ruling, Hall decided to loan the sculpture and six heroic Kiefer paintings to the museum. So this piece of art - or structure, if you will - is now attached by weight and gravity to the second floor of another structure, MASS MoCA.







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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