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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

September 30, 2007

This was the view from our front porch Friday afternoon. I had looked a few minutes earlier, expecting to see a rainbow. The rain had started and the sun was breaking through.

But the sky was blank. I went back in. Then Babbie went to the porch and called me. It was right on top of us. Vivid and beautiful.

A 6-year-old in our family, Zoe Bates, sings "Over the Rainbow" in a quiet way that almost breaks your heart, startling you that such an amazing voice can come from a child.

So this rainbow is for Zoe.

There are two other great versions of the song that I know of and probably many more that I don't. One is Judy Garland's from the Wizard of Oz and the other is Eva Cassidy's. Eva's rendition made her a star - but only five years after her untimely death.

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.

That's a lovely thing to think - the part about dreams you dare to dream. And sometimes they really do.


September 28, 2007

Katharina Grosse, a German artist, is a wild woman wielding a spray gun.

This is what she did last year at the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati. That's the place that Linda Shearer went when she left the Williams College Museum several years ago.

Then on September 1 last year the Cincinnati institution dropped a bomb: Shearer, director for just two years, had resigned to "pursue other interests."

Then this June she was named interim director of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Sara Pearce, a Cincinnati blogger, said then: "I, for one, will miss Linda's intelligence, charm, wit, warmth, energy, ability to help me better understand contemporary art, enthusiasm for the new, support of the edgy and cerebral, and, of course, her laugh."

That was two months before Grosse sprayed the CAC lobby. So I assume the spraying and the leaving had nothing to do with each other. Anyway, I want to get back to Ms. Grosse. You can get an idea of her exuberance and the scope of her work from the smaller picture which shows what she did with the library in Birmingham, England, in 2002.

I am blown away by what she's doing. I l ike the idea of going crazy with a spray gun. I used to paint houses with a spray gun, but that was so controlled. Even so I loved the way the paint shot out of the gun at the end of your arm, almost as if it was emerging with force from your own body. I loved the broad swaths it covered with a single move of your arm.

Rory and I formed a minor- league painting team for a summer or two while we were working at The Eagle. We called ourselves "Blow Jobs Inc." But only among ourselves and friends.

I could paint my own house in a weekend. The thing I didn't like about it was cleaning the gun afterward. I mean you really had to clean it or it would not work next time.

Katharina, seen at work above, has taken the whole thing one glorious step further. I hope she has an assistant who cleans her guns.


September 26, 2007

This is the first blowup in the Monk Memorial project. It is 32 inches by 29 inches and consists of dozens of images blown up on a Xerox at Staples.

This piece is important to me not just because it is of a guy I loved who has been dead for a long time but because it's the first time since my show started June 1 that I've really plunged back into my work. What a relief that is. I don't know why I wasn't working. It's the first time that's happened to me in the 10 years I've been doing this full time. Not working feels like crap.

This isn't just a single layer of copies. It's probably 10 copies thick in places. Those are copies that interlock and overlap all over the place. I make the blowup 200 percent at a time. To do that you have to shoot one corner of the piece you're blowing, then flip the piece and shoot the other corner, then push the upper mid-section into the sweet spot on the copier glass, then the lower mid-section. You end up with six to eight pieces to construct the same section you just blew up. And you do that over and over - six to eight pieces of paper to make one of the piece you are blowing up.

Pretty soon you have hundreds of pieces of paper - I'm using 60 pound weight to give it some heft - and where you started out with a photo of a face half the size of the nail on your pinky - it was a group shot - you end up with one this size. It's like working on a three-dimensional puzzle.

Am I making this clear? Well it's hard to explain. Try it and you'll see what I mean.

If you don't get the pieces overlapping at exactly right, by the time you get to the top nothing will fit correctly and the whole image will be off - way off.

This one is not glued yet. After I got it all together, making sure I had the pieces I wanted for the top layers, I collapsed it the way you wedge spread cards into a deck. I'll glue the pieces together today and show it to my art group when we meet this afternoon.

Next I will work on the same thing again. Only this one will be twice as big - 64 inches by 58 inches. It won't just be bigger, it will be different. Each time you go bigger, the image changes. I'll show you the next one too so you can see what I mean. But before I get to that I have to take a ruler and knife and cut all four borders off each of the thick stack of pieces that go into it. That's a little tedious. But in the process you start getting a feel for the pieces you'll be assembling.

Making blowups was one of my first art techniques. I thought it was an original idea. But you quickly learn very little is original in art.


September 24, 2007

This is our son Eric and Michelle Gagnon about to leave the chapel in the woods after their wedding outside Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Saturday.

It was a lovely wedding, simple and full of joy and humor, and they are lovely kids. Babbie and I couldn't be happier for them. Eric sells business insurance - lots of it - and Michelle is the chief financial officer of a 55-employee real estate management firm.

The wedding brought all three Horner children together, which doesn't happen often. Michael Horner and Meghan and their 5-month-old Roan, with his winning smile, were up from Lake Charles,Louisiana. And Shannon (Horner) Nichols, Paul and their wild dancing flower girl, Riley, were there from Pittsfield.

It also reunited the three cousins, Zoe, left, Riley, center, and Sarah Mei. To say they had a wonderful time together would be an understatement.

The rehearsal dinner at the Oar House went off without a hitch, as did the wedding - if you don't count the of green gum that was discovered on the back of Michelle's gown at the last moment and removed without damage.

The wedding luncheon at Rudy's was lavish and that morphed into the disco party on the third floor of the Portsmouth Gas Co. It was there I learned my granddaughter Riley, going on 8, can dance for hours like a whirling dervish. She must have inherited some of the same genes that give Eric his boundless energy and personality. He and Riley danced. I would have loved to have seen that but I missed it. They're the family performers. She also danced with her mother and father. But mostly she danced by herself, ecstatically.


September 21, 2007

Portent? Paranormal sign? Celestial phenomenon? Blessing? Omen?

You tell me what this is, this splendor in the grass, this sudden oval of light with its linked crescents that appeared on our lawn in the late afternoon Monday.

This is a virgin photo. I took it with my digital camera and downloaded it. It has not been tampered with or enhanced in any way. It is a precise depiction of what we saw that sunny afternoon, and again Tuesday afternoon.

I should tell you that it remained in place - well not really in place because it slid to the northwest so slowly its movement was imperceptible - for some time. It may have been there 15 minutes or longer. I was fascinated and lost track.

Babbie says she knows what it was. I'm convinced she was right. But I'll let you reflect on it.


September 19, 2007

Opening this box with a head in it could be upsetting if you weren't expecting it. But I hope it won't be a jolt to its new owner in California.

It's one of my favorites, an example of the work I did in 2005 and 2006 that combined sculpture with painting. I packed it yesterday. The pink styrofoam is glued to the sides of the box to keep the piece from banging around inside the package. And bubblewrap is tucked under the edges of the head to cushion jolts.

As I've mentioned in the past, the welding glasses on this head were worn by the sculptor Antoni Milkowski. His large, minimalist works achieved currency in the late 1960s. Major sculptures by Milkowski are on public view in New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Troy, Hempstead, Baltimore, Milwaukee and Elblang, Poland. The piece here is 28 feet long and is owned by Hofstra University.

Since he died several years ago, his house and studio are up for sale. His stunning steel sculptures, no longer in demand, dot the pastures of his country property in New Lebanon, N.Y. If you're interested in buying a great farmhouse graced with pastures of plenty, contact me and I'll put you in touch with the person to talk to.


September 17, 2007

You may remember this one. It's part of the Dresden Firebombing series. I reworked it this summer, making the background a dark, dark red glaze over a blue-black base. And I also darkened the red plaque.

The doll is from a German factory bombed in World War II. I assume it is a Dresden doll. It is one of nine I bought from Caramia, who has a shop on North Street. Cara said that it, like the others, was excavated from the ruins of the factory.

This piece, The Dresden Doll, is 68 inches x 45 inches, oil on canvas. Like many in the series, it was painted over an existing painting.

I made a mold of one of the doll heads and cast a half dozen heads from it. I used four of those in another Dresden piece, and a couple in the Scarlet Letter.

The doll's head is suspended from a four-inch deep copper container and swings freely in it if the painting is moved. The vessel penetrates the canvas, protruding about 1.5 inches on the reverse side. Rivets hold it in place.

The memorial plaques are raised from the surface by mounting them on cardboard. They too are riveted to the main canvas. This piece is available for $2000.


September 15, 2007

Looking around my studio late last night I noticed this face staring at me from the floor. I stooped down and took this shot.

It is one of the 104 paintings that made up the Scarlet Letter Wall at the Lenox Library this summer. But from the way I had it laid sideways against a box on the studio floor, it took on a different look.

This is one of the three-dimensional works I made in 2005-2006. I used Level Best, a cement-like substance used for leveling floors before applying tile.

I made a raised aluminum frame around it and steadied the head by wiring it to stainless steel posts sunk into the stretcher.

This was always one of my favorites. So I wasn't broken hearted when it wasn't one of the 20 paintings that sold.

After looking at Emily Young's sculpture (see my September 7 post), I think I'll be tackling more of my own in the coming year. The problem is that it takes up too much storage space.

We just got back from visiting friends on Cape Cod for a couple days. The six of us had great food, great conversations and went on a four-hour whale watch. We got extended looks at three humpbacks, each with a calf swimming alongside her. It was pretty amazing.


September 10, 2007

Some people wear their heart on their sleeve. I wear mine on my forehead.

See it? It's near the hairline on the right side in the photo, which is actually the right side on my head since this is a mirror image.

Riley pointed it out this summer.

"Grier, did you know that you have a heart on your forehead?"


I stooped over. "There." She touched the spot.

I went to the mirror. Sure enough. I had known I had an age spot - or whatever it is - up there. But I had never noticed that it was a heart.

"Do you like it?" Riley wanted to know.

"Yes, it goes with the hearts in my show."

Take a look at my July 29 post, for instance

P.S. I'm taking the next four or five days off. Hope to post again about Sept. 15.


September 7, 2007

Isn't this Wounded Angel III by Emily Young amazing? I came across her work by accident while surfing the Web Thursday night and was stunned.

Emily Young. I'd never heard of her. She's an English sculptor. One hell of a sculptor. Look at Solar Disk II on the right. I've never seen anything like that. And it isn't plastic. It's carved from a stone called chalcedony. Chalcedony has a waxy luster, and may be semitransparent or translucent. It comes in a variety of colors.

Ms. Young was born in London in 1951 into a family of artists and writers. Her grandmother Kathleen Scott was a pupil of Auguste Rodin and widow of the explorer Robert Falcon Scott. Ms. Young's father Wayland Hilton Young, 2nd Baron Kennet, was a politician and writer.
In the mid 1960s, according to Wikopedia, Ms. Young was involved in the psychedelic scene of London, and has been rumored to be the inspiration for the song "See Emily Play", written by Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett.

She was a painter until the 1980s when she turned to working in stone, giving us pieces like Warrior Poet below.



September 5, 2007

The ancient mariner pulls into shore at the end of his first solo ride on a jet ski. The scene is Point Peninsula on Lake Ontario near Canada.

Yes, I know, jet skis are an earsplitting invader of our natural environment. But did I ever have fun. David took me for my first ride and then showed me how to run the thing. They really buck in the waves.

We were visiting him and Cookie, who is Babbie's sister, which from their names I guess you wouldn't have much trouble figuring out. Also up there were Pete, their brother, and his wife Zoa. The six of us get along great. There's a lot of kidding around, storytelling, a lot about family and the jokes age is playing on us.

Here's the dream house Dave and Cookie built on the lake after years of planning. The porch goes all around. We'd sit on it every evening and watch the red sun sink behind the lake's horizon line. They live there from April to November. The rest of the year they're nomads.

Sunday we took two bridges as we island-hopped across the St. Lawrence River into Canada, passports in hand. We ate lunch in Gananoque on a deck overlooking the St. Lawrence River. The meal was good and I got a hell of a sunburn.

On Labor Day Babbie woke me up with news that the wind was blowing, the waves were up and Cookie was out swimming in the lake. I was a life guard on the Hudson River for three summers a lifetime ago. But now I avoid swimming like the plague. Sometimes I think I'll die if I plunge into cold water. How's that for good mental health. Besides, as a public service, I like to keep my body under wraps.

But Cookie was out there diving into the waves and I joined her. It was fun in the surf. Take a look. Babbie took this shot and the one of me on the jet ski.





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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