March 25, 2009

Packing up the Road Show

As the exhibition of photographs and paintings of abandoned houses draws to a close, and I write final reports to grant agencies, I feel as though I am putting a bookmark in an incompletely read novel. I often have to do this in my creative work - come to stopping places with stories not completely told. Because the business of being an artist must go on, with other exhibitions to launch, commissions to start, and courses to teach, ending a line of work can seem somewhat abrupt at times. But continuing in the analogy of reading, the work is not really ended, only halted temporarily in order to meet other obligations. Would that I could devote a whole year on nothing but an art or writing project!
The exhibition in Blackville was enjoyable, and I have to thank Grace Jameson, Director of the Rivers, Rails, and Crossroads Discovery Center, for all her hard work in promoting and setting up this exhibition. I especially liked her power point presentation of the paintings that I had completed in the genre of bucolic scenes. There were over a hundred paintings displayed on a wide screen - which presented a comprehensive overview of my work on the subject of abandoned architecture. The work spanned over a decade of recording, sketching and painting these houses. I have included a few from years past.
This Saturday, I’ll be heading back down to Blackville to pack up the exhibition. Once again, it seems like a lot of work, and once again, it is forecast to be pouring down rain when I pick it up. Oddly enough, for the past two decades, it has rained every time I have to deliver or pick up art work. It has been so certain that I have come to believe that I could break a drought in any geographic location just by turning up there with art to deliver. It is uncanny.

March 19, 2009

The Solitary Chair

There was a solitary, rusted chair on the porch of an abandoned house on Treadwell Street. Sunlight pierced the holes on its back and illuminated them like stars in a night sky. There was a mysterious package to the side of the chair, unopened, resting where it lay when someone walked away from it years earlier.
I painted this scene on a heavy walnut panel some years ago. I had wheeled the coated panel to the site with a makeshift easel on a small cart. While I painted the bitter-sweet scene of time gone by, a car pulled up by the curb. A rather spry-looking old woman beamed out at me from the driver’s seat and inquired why I was painting this particular place. I responded that I liked the stark black and white forms and that I was painting a number of abandoned homes like this.
The woman who asked introduced herself as Clemmie Weber and proceeded to give me an impromptu history of Treadwell Street. The street was populated by adults at the time I painted it but it used to be a place for African American professionals and their families, she explained. Dr. Weber had many found memories of growing up on Treadwell Street, including the games children played. The children’s "parade of the houses," was one which caught my interest. This was a contest of sorts, to see who could design the best house from cardboard, papers and fabrics. The embellished houses were placed on roller skates with strings attached to them and rolled down the street. (The image comes back to be now as I am finishing my own parade of painted houses on wood and masonite panels).
The idea of a parade of hand-crafted fun intrigued me. I was reminded of my own youth, when I made makeshift houses out of rocks and tree stumps - with carpets cut from moss. Bowls of food were made from acorn shells. It was an age before videos, PC’s, and I-pods. I have often wondered about how much these items give, yet take away. When entertainment is downloaded rather than self generated does it soften and erode an ability to create one’s own amusement? I posited this question to one of my art teacher colleagues this week . She had noted that children at her school didn’t quite know what to do with themselves at recess without the usual accouterments of youthful entertainment technologies and thus were made to exercise by a forced walk, single file, around the grounds. Hardly entertaining.
So while I enjoy the benefits of an information age, I still find solace in tempering that with my low tech pencils, papers, inks, paints, brushes and wood. Because although it is my profession, it is also not forgetting how to play.