“I’m always working,” Brenda Horowitz says, sitting in her North Truro studio with her right wrist wrapped in a tight bandage, the result of a recent fall. “I don’t stop. I love the process.”
The injured wrist is one of many obstacles she has had to overcome lately: a badly broken hip, an artery bypass, the Covid epidemic. But Horowitz, who’ll be 90 years old next January, continues to paint, continues to be vital, and, perhaps most important, continues to show her work and find a devoted audience. This Friday, Berta Walker Gallery in Provincetown will offer an exhibit of her new paintings, alongside those of Robert Henry, an old friend.
Her bold acrylic landscapes, mostly of Truro and Wellfleet, are abstracted color studies of her favorite local vistas. She used to drive around with a camera, seeking out locations that might inspire a painting. “I don’t have to take pictures anymore,” Horowitz says. She adds, pointing to a notebook, “I have these 300 photographs as a resource. I used to take great pictures. Sometimes, I find a picture I haven’t used.”
Her picture-hunting days are over, however. When Horowitz is in Truro, her three children look after her. “She was a terrible driver at 30, and didn’t get any better,” says her daughter, Diana, who’s a gifted painter in her own right, showing at the Schoolhouse Gallery in Provincetown. “In New York, she can be independent.”
Horowitz is a native New Yorker who grew up in Washington Heights, the Manhattan neighborhood near the George Washington Bridge that was once largely Jewish but is now famously Latino, the setting for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical In the Heights. She went to the public High School of Music and Art, and then to City College of New York. But pursuing a career in art, a pipe dream for anyone back then, was barely even an option for women. “I studied education — that was a degree City College had for women,” she says. “But I took mostly art history courses. That was the subject I really loved.”
She was then Brenda Stone, and she met her future husband, Paul Horowitz, in high school. “I fell in love with him when I was 16,” she says. “He was a singer. A tenor.” Brenda married Paul when she was 19, and, after graduating, she became a fifth-grade teacher. She taught for six years and nearly got her master’s. Then her husband came back from serving in Korea and she got pregnant. “Once I had kids, I didn’t want to work anymore,” Horowitz says. She did some substitute teaching, and her husband was on his way to being an assistant principal. “By that time, I was infused with the idea of becoming an artist.”
It was a long time coming. “My mother was very artistic,” Horowitz says. “I was drawing since I was 12.” When her younger son was in nursery school, she started painting regularly at night. She finished her master’s at Cooper Union, this time in studio art, not education. The family went to Provincetown, and there she studied with Hans Hofmann and Wolf Kahn. She was encouraged by her good friend Selina Trieff, a fellow painter who helped her get her first show. Trieff was married to artist Robert Henry, and the families were close.
Around this time, the Horowitzes moved into Westbeth, the subsidized nonprofit artist housing complex of hundreds of loft spaces created out of the old Bell Laboratories building in the West Village. (Brenda still lives there; Paul died in 2015.) Between the postwar art scene in downtown New York and summers in Provincetown, the family became part of a flourishing community of artists.
It wasn’t always easy. “When I went through menopause, I had two years of depression,” Horowitz says. “If it wasn’t for Paul, I would be dead. I was very suicidal. But afterwards, when I was recovering, Paul and I came up here. We rented a place. He drove me to the Audubon Society, and I started to paint again. From then on, I’ve never stopped.”
In the ’80s, Horowitz had her first show in Provincetown, at the Paul Kessler Gallery in the West End. It was a resounding success. For someone who’d been told, “Don’t you know? You’re a mother, not a painter,” she takes great pride in making it as an artist. “Selling is very gratifying to her,” Diana says.
“For 15 years, I painted outdoors in gouache,” Horowitz says. “I used that work to make large paintings in the studio. Mostly abstract, semi-abstract, all kinds of mishegoss. Slowly, I shifted toward doing landscapes. The color with wash is very strong, so my paintings got stronger and stronger. By the time I got to Berta, the work was no longer wishy-washy.”
Horowitz has been with Berta Walker for 26 years, and her paintings are on the walls of homes throughout Cape Cod. “I love the landscape,” she says. “The light is so gorgeous on the Cape. That’s what’s alive in all this work. I couldn’t paint anywhere else. It’s just not possible.”
The event: “Brenda Horowitz, Peter Watts: Truro & Wellfleet Motifs,” along with “Robert Henry: Solo Moments” and “Penelope Jencks: Portrait Maquettes”
The time: Opening Saturday, Aug. 21, 3 to 5 p.m.; Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., through Sept. 11
The place: Berta Walker Gallery, 208 Bradford St., Provincetown
The cost: Free