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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

October 31, 2007

There's been such an overwhelming response to my WCMA Chairs series that I'm running with it for the third straight post.

The number of hits on my blog has skyrocketed since I started using it October 27. So I'm risking trying your patience by going with it again.

The chairs are chameleons in this shot, making a go at imitating the floor.


And as the third and final shot, I give you my granddaughter Riley, Red Sox shirt and all, shooting the skylite in one of the galleries at the Williams College Museum of Art.

On display is: "Critical Encounters: Collecting Contemporary Photography" on view through December 16. It features 48 photographs, both from the museum's permanent collection and from New York based art critic Phyllis Tuchman. A lot of good stuff.


October 29, 2007


This is Day Two of photos of the chairs at the Williams College Museum of Art. I thought they would be a good subject and they lived up to my expectations.

And there was the big bonus that  it was a project that I tackled with my granddaughter Riley. That's her reflection you see in the first chair in the shot above.

The shot to the right is one of the 86 Riley took. She got it by leaning over the back of the chair and shooting straight down at the seat. I cropped it to cut out the surrounding floor, since the seat was what she was after.

What you're seeing reflected is the large skylight above the gallery.



October 27, 2007

Thursday I had lunch with the Jewish Federation crew at the synagogue on Colt Road. After lunch I gave my power point presentation. It was so powerful and so pointed it put two of the 17 people asleep.

As you might have ascertained this shot was not from the Federation luncheon, where I had a fine time with some men who invited me to sit with them at the "bad boys table." At 72 I may have been the youngest of the boys.

No, the shot of the attractive young woman with pink hair was taken yesterday afternoon at the Williams College Museum of Art.

I had been to a lecture there Thursday and the thing that grabbed my attention was the way three highly polished chrome chairs reflected the light in the gallery. I got an OK to come back and shoot the chairs and brought Riley along because she had no school in the afternoon. Suzanne Silich, the publicity director, not only facilitated the project she helped us lug the chairs upstairs to the gallery.

With a small digital camera I lent her, Riley took 86 shots and some of them were rather wonderful. I was amazed at the way she plunged into it, lost herself in it. She shot the chairs from every imaginable angle, even snaking herself in under the legs to shoot up.

Before we went to the museum we had sandwiches at a shop on Spring Street. Afterwards we went down to Tunnel City where I got a coffee. Then we prowled through the parking lots scouting for license plates. We found seven new states: California, Delaware, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Dakota and West Virginia. Now she has about 10 to go to get all 50.

Riley Nichols, girl  photographer, in action at Williams College Museum of Art yesterday.


October 25, 2007

This is a pair of my favorite candlesticks. Beautiful, aren't they. They're made of painted wood, which isn't the greatest material for something that carries a torch. You could say the same about people.

I used to love candlelit dinners with Babbie in front of the fireplace. I guess I was a hopeless romantic. I still like to eat with her in front of a fire. But I don't break out the candles anymore. Age reduces ardor.

I took this photo as part of a still life series I'm working on.

Today I'm talking to the Jewish Federation about my paintings. I'm giving a power point presentation. Power Point. That sounds like important stuff doesn't it. Basically it replaces the overhead projector. It could be powerful, I guess, but it depends on the speaker or what's being shown on the screen.

I wish I could remember how to switch to the next picture.


October 23, 2007











I was looking at some shots of Brigitte Bardot the other day when I came across the one on the right. It reminded me of Chuck Close's Big Self Portrait from 1965.

It was the tilt of her cigarette , the open mouth, the black and white coloring.

The French movie star was trying to look sexy, and Close wasn't. But the these are images that could talk to each other side by side in a gallery.

Below we have a 2005 self-portrait by Close, one of our major artists, and a 2004 photo of Bardot, now an animal rights activist. Close is 67 and Bardot 73. One of the uncanny things about Close's current style of creating realistic paintings from accumulations of abstract rectangles is that up close there is no portrait. As you back up, they suddenly snap into focus. One of the compelling things about Bardot's picture is that it shows a woman, whose fame came in large part from her looks, who nonetheless is not a slave to cosmetic surgery.













October 21, 2007

This maple at the end of the rainbow glows like the proverbial pot of gold. It's the second rainbow I've photographed from our porch in less than a month. (See my September 30 post.) It take it as a good omen.

It appeared early yesterday evening as I was finishing unpacking the van after a trip to Gettysburg to see John and Bill and Bill's wife Peach. Of the six children of Winfield and Evelyn Horner, including my father, John and Bill are the survivors.

John is going on 87 and this time you could see the ravages of age, but his mind is still sharp and his sense of humor intact. Bill looks far younger than the octogenarian he will soon be. My sister Britt and her husband Ed joined us.

We have a deep connection to John, Bill and Peach and it was wonderful to be with them. But it was sobering to see John, who we last saw a year ago, looking diminished and fragile, his legs playing tricks on him. I always say I want to keep painting into my 90s. But 90 may not look that good when you get there. I should say if you get there.

Friday morning Babbie and I drove around the battlefield with John, who knows all the officers and tactics of that epic battle. As a young man wanted to be a battlefield guide. He showed us a lot of things and talked of his concern about the future of this place where so much blood was shed.

We drove by my grandparents' house and orchard just off the battlefield. John calls it the home place. But for more than 50 years it has been owned by strangers, who have enlarged it, removed the long porch where we used to swing in the swing my father made in high school, the porch from which we shoot a bb gun at a target tacked to the maple, the porch where the family gathered to sit and talk on warm evenings. But it is their house and they don't have to live by our traditions, traditions of which they are not even aware.

The orchard was uprooted years ago to provide pasture for horses. The fields below the orchard which once produced hay and corn now support houses on large lots. The dirt road is paved. The only thing that looks the same is the old barn that my Aunt Lucille and I plotted to chop down one spring because I maintained it was falling down.


John showed us where the blacksmith shop stood. When Britt and I lived with my grandparents when I was in 4th grade, I used to draw horses and talk about horses all the time. I loved horses. I would be a great rider.

One Saturday morning my grandfather, who I adored, took me over to the blacksmith's to watch him ply his trade. The blacksmith asked me if I would like to hold the horse's leg up while he fitted the shoe. I didn't. The horse was big and its muscles quivered and it stamped the ground. I was afraid of him. That came as a shock to me, the horseman, the rider, the cowboy.


October 17, 2007


This is a detail of an unfinished painting I've been working on the last two days. It's a portrait of "R", who worked at the Man of Kent until recently.

The Man of Kent is a comfortable English-style pub set up by John, who came from England. The only trouble with the place is that John, who's approaching retirement, sold it recently.

He's the presence that gives it its class. Fortunately he's staying on two days a week. He said he likes being there without the long hours and responsibilities of ownership.

Anyway, R is a lovely kid, a beautiful kid, too. In the last six months she started putting on weight. She was obviously pregnant.

When Bill and I went over last Thursday, a guy came in and sat next to us at the bar. I learned he was R's father.

I asked him how she liked her new job and he said she liked it fine.

"When's she going to have the baby?" I asked.

He stared at me a long time with a strange look. "She isn't having a baby," he said finally.

I apologized awkwardly and said I must be confusing her with someone else.

"Way to go, Grier," Bill said after he left.

"Didn't you think she was pregnant?"

"I did. We all did. But she obviously wasn't."

"It's good he's not a fighting man," I said.

We laughed about it going back in the car. We weren't laughing at R but at my blunder. She's a great kid and I felt badly about saying that to her father.


October 15, 2007

This is me in my so-called studio. I took this "before" shot yesterday afternoon as I prepared to take the plunge and clean it up.

When I restore order, I'll show you the "after." You'll be impressed.

As things are, there's a narrow path so I can get through the place to get out to my tent where I painted this summer - what painting I did.

But now that, thankfully, I'm working hard again and with cold weather approaching I need to paint indoors. Right now, that's barely possible in the studio. So I've been doing my Monk Memorial stuff upstairs in the addition. (See October 5 post)

Having a studio that's a disaster puts me in some good company. Here's a picture of the late great Francis Bacon in his. It looks worse than mine. The only other studio I've seen that would give Bacon and me competition is Kinney Frelinghuysen's in Lenox.

What I probably need is a front end loader. But instead I've bought tall shelving on wheels and a cart on wheels. Since I already have a table on wheels - it's in the foreground of the top photo - I'm going to have a lot of studio mobility.

I used to paint with the canvas tacked to the walls. But in 1965 and 1966, when I was churning out the Scarlet Letter paintings, I was hanging them on the painting wall as I went along. Since the show at the Lenox Library ended, I've hung a number of them back up because a friend who bought a bunch is thinking of buying some more and is going to take a look at them. So there's no room on the wall to tack up a big canvas. Even if there was, I can't really get to the wall. So it's past time to whip things into shape.

Actually, I hate clutter. But I'm better at creating it than cleaning it up.


October 13, 2007 (a)

Last time it was African violets. This time it's poppies. Only these are fake.

Fake or not they looked beautiful the morning I shot them as

a narrow band of sunlight hit the leading edge of this bogus bouquet shortly after sunrise.


October 13, 2007 (b)

  Tara Franklin as Rita. Kevin Sprague photo.

Last night Babbie, Shannon and I saw Tara Franklin and Jonathan Epstein in Educating Rita at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge.

They were wonderful in this humane comedy about an academic poet who despises his poems and loves his booze, and a young hairdresser who finds him the ideal tutor in her desperate quest for relevance.

In a review in Variety, Chris Newbound wrote, "Few characters are more likeable than the self-improving Rita, and Franklin's luminous, complete-body performance delightfully captures all her quirky nuances. Within moments of her whirlwind entrance, Frank (Jonathan Epstein) falls under her spell, uttering that she's "the first breath of air in this room in ages."

Newbound, bemoaning a lack of sexual tension, said, "Epstein (a victim of possibly the worst hair day of the summer season) plays Frank too disheveled. So much so that by play's end, when Frank braves asking Rita to go away with him to Australia, there's not a chance in hell that she'll go; even Frank seems to know what her answer will be.

"She settles him down in a chair, instead, for a long overdo, consolation prize: a haircut. It's the first time the two have made any physical contact whatsoever -- a case of too little, too late."


Unlike Variety, I thought there was chemistry but I agree that by the second act you knew Frank wouldn't win Rita's heart. The production ends October 20. See it if you can.


October 11, 2007

What an amazing blue this African violet is. I shot it in natural light as I was going around the house taking pictures the other day.

I thought it was a peony, a name that seemed lame for such a vivid beauty. But Babbie set me straight.

This is one of several plants that Babbie's Aunt Henry gave her when she went into a retirement home overlooking the Hudson River years ago. Babbie thinks her sister Carol had originally given it to Henrietta.

She keeps the plants on an old chest of drawers of Henrietta's. It is in the kitchen, its top covered with plants.


October 9, 2007

Tony Scherman can paint. Man, can he paint. Writing in Art in  America in 2002, Leah Ollman said his portraits have "carnal presence." She hit it on the head.

He uses encaustic, an ancient technique employing pigmented wax that is heated to a liquid state before being applied to the canvas. Scherman, a Canadian, was in art school in London when he first saw Jasper John's work in encaustic and became a master of that medium.

The painting at the top is large - about 84 inches by 94 inches. He calls it

"Napoleon in drag and the powder that he used."

At the right is "Simone as Slave," about half as big and done in encaustic and cornmeal on canvas.


October 7, 2007

Up in Paul's studio overlooking North Street, we've been sketching from life.

The first time it literally wore me out. I was trying too hard.

But the next time, I stopped putting so much pressure on myself and relaxed. The young woman modeling for us is bright, comfortable in her own skin. And she laughs with us.

This time instead of drawing the figure I tried shaping it by using broad pastel strokes, keeping the pastel flat. One result is the drawing at the top.

When I was taking art classes at Berkshire Community College some years ago, I'd work life size using a kitchen sponge and acrylics - a technique I want to go back too. At Paul's I'm working small: the paper's about two feet wide.

With the drawing at the right I sketched the form in with a China marker.

The model at the left is not ours. She is Audrey Munson. Daniel Chester French, creator of the seated Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial, often used her, as did a number of sculptors. At 39 she was committed to a mental institution, spending 65 years there before her death in 1996. I'm not trying to imply that modeling makes you go off your rocker.

The only reason I bring Audrey Munson up is that French, who died in 1931, was using her when he was an old man. It's not a bad way to spend your last years.


October 5, 2007

Last night I started sorting things out and pasting Monk together. I took this shot myself. It made me feel like Cindy Sherman.

After studying the layout of Monk on the floor (see October 3), I had realized I needed to make the thing wider. So I spent 1 1/2 hours at Staples again Wednesday evening and ran off another 99 blowups, laying them out on the floor as I go so I can see if I have any gaps. That's why I always take the machine in the corner. The other customers don't seem to pay much attention.

Armed with my new guillotine, I sliced the borders off the 99 fresh copies. Before getting it, I cut the borders off with a utility knife, which took a lot longer and made me worry about slicing a finger. I set the guillotine up in what I like to think of as my outdoor atelier (see June 24 in the archives) - so named after a large tent Sigmar Polk paints under in the summer.

Then I fitted the new ones into the layout on the floor and then collapsed the whole thing and put the pieces in piles. Now I'm starting to assemble it, pasting each piece into place. Sounds like child's  play. But it's a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. Lining everything up precisely is very demanding. If you don't, the whole thing gets distorted as you get to the upper layers.

In the photo with the lavender lines, I'm trying to show you how the pieces are overlaid to assemble the picture. I drew in the lines to show the individual blowups. In this small section - which is the mouth and chin - I've already used about 9 pieces. And I'm about to fit the piece on the upper right on over the mouth. That will expand the picture slightly. I will keep working upward, downward and to the sides until I've got the whole image. Then I'll keep gluing pieces on top of this initial layer, continuously overlapping, continuously adding.

When I'm finished it will be up to 10 layers thick in places, four or five in others. It will be stiff enough at that point that it can be leaned against the wall without buckling. I'm probably boring you with this awkward explanation of how it works. But it's fascinating to me.

P. S. That isn't my studio I'm working in. It's our addition. The studio is just below it but it's so cluttered right now I don't have space to lay the picture out on the floor. A friend was over in the afternoon and asked whose space this was - mine or Babbie's. I said it was Babbie's. Babbie said all the space in the house is mine - meaning I work on my stuff all over the house.


October 3, 2007

I'm working on a new blowup of Monk. This picture shows the assembly nearing completion. You can see the gaps and the Xeroxs that still have to be pieced in.

Once they're all in place I'll slide the pieces together like a deck of cards. Then I'll start from the back of the deck, building the image in layers and gluing each piece in place. This is a test run. I always go through a test run to see what problems develop as I build the image, so I'll have a better idea of how to proceed when I start gluing them in place.

This one will be over 5 feet high. For the first blowup of Monk, one that's half the size, see my September 26 archive. The small photograph here is the actual shot of Monk at our roommate Bob's wedding in the late 1950s. I pulled it from a shot of the wedding party having dinner, and then removed the background. It's the foreshortening in the large photo that distorts the size of his chin.

Monk would probably get a kick out of seeing all this. And he would have been flattered by the fuss, and of course making suggestions. But of course it is too late for that.




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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