AWOL for Geography

I have not posted in this blog for quite some time (now that I look at the dates it’s longer than I thought). The reason, or one of the reasons, for that is that I had a group show to get prepared for at a local gallery.

It has also been quite some time since I participated in a show like this, or put together a series of work in this manner. Getting back “on the horse” so to speak took a lot of my energy and time… just like I remember it, and I was glad to expend the effort.

I am not going to post photos of the works I am displaying in the show because I have mixed feelings about that at the moment. The work is very much about the physical object and processes involved in painting, and I am not sure I am ready to give it a full virtual showing at this time. However I will post some of the process images.

The show, “New Appalachian Geographies” is on view at Gallery 121 in the Gilliam Center for the Arts, University of Virginia’s College at Wise in Wise, Virginia through March 28. Artists showing work are J.J. Cromer, Suzanne Adams-Ramsey, Ray Stratton, David Constable, Misty Stratton, Marlana Williams, Chuck Clisso, Caroline Baker and James Veenstra.

“New Appalachian Geographies” is not a comprehensive
survey of central Appalachia’s physical and human geography. This
exhibit acts instead as a group of snapshots. And like any group of
snapshots the perspectives are idiosyncratic and very personal and
necessarily fixed in a particular time (right now).

A broad intention, however, unifies every artist in “New Appalachian
Geographies.” In his or her own way, each artist is interested in
exploring the daily ambiguities and contradictions of living in central
Appalachia today. At the heart of this exploration is a shared desire
for a more examined and critical love of our home and land.

My personal statement:

When given the theme “New Appalachian Geographies” to work with, my mind immediately connected the process by which the land is changed through extracting natural resources to the process I subject my canvasses to. This act of stripping away and then building up, in a way defies the nature of the land as much as it is tied to the essential characteristics of the terrain. Similarly, the character of the canvas as fabric is contradicted in the act of stretching, sizing, priming and covering with paint; although its inherent qualities of flexibility and light weight are what make it an appropriate support for painting. Because my canvas is already heavily sized, I must remove this through scouring first just as the land must be prepared by removal of trees and topsoil before surface mining can commence. The land is worked into new forms, allowing for the path of runoff to be redirected. My canvasses are folded and wrinkled to direct the flow of dye to the desired result, forming the structure for the painting to be built upon.

I found it important to present the landscape as I have committed it to my memory because it is being changed drastically and quickly relative to the natural cycle of things. The way part of the landscape looks today may be very different to the way it will look a short time in the future so that in portraying it as it sits in my mind’s eye has more permanence to me than using photo reference or sketching on site. Each of the locations in the paintings are site specific on the major route (US Route 23) from my home (Cocoon), south towards Wise, VA between State Route 823 and State Route 624 (Facsimile), and north towards Pikeville, KY at the Caney Highway (Temple).


As I was working on the paintings, I struggled a bit at first as to how I wanted to handle recreating these landscapes that I see repeatedly, marking slow change, usually as I am driving past on the highway. The first step, folding the canvas and preparing for dye, was actually the most planned and least spontaneous because I had to create specific valleys and ridges for the fluid dye to travel through that would create the structure for the rest of the work. The physical act involved always feels heavily important to me when I make these dyed under-paintings. If the results aren’t appropriate for the work, I set it aside and wait until I see something else that fits for a different painting and start over. Fortunately, this one came out just as I had planned. This was the result for the Caney Highway location:

This massive “earthwork” cuts sharply downward, as though a giant chisel has been inserted into and pried open the mountain, allowing its guts to spill into the valley below. I needed to make sure to depict the dramatic downward thrust in the foundations of the painting.

Here is an impromptu work in progress photo of the same work:

The Route 283 location is one I see almost daily from several vantage points. I wanted to capture the essence of the location as it is now in the beginning stages of reclamations- a recovering patient of a sort. I took mental snapshots for several weeks before laying down a sketch using software on my iPad. This is the first time I used the technology as an honest to goodness sketchbook study. I wanted to see if the act of virtual painting, with it’s ease of use and forgiving, clean nature, would be as helpful as a traditional sketch on paper with dry media. The process was a convenience for me (I was able to walk through my mental impressions and get it down during the hour I wait for my daughter at her gymnastics class)… and more helpful than I thought it would be. I did refer to this digital sketch sparingly in the production of the final work, but mostly added the physical memory (much better on the tablet interface using “fingerpainting method” to me than other digital media has been so far) of laying down the colors to the visual memories I had collected. I may repeat this process of sketching in the future rather than just using the iPad as an entertainment venue for my artistic urges as I have for the most part so far.

Here is the resulting sketch:

Again, I’m not yet sure how I feel about the melding of these technologies with my processes, but I do imagine that they will emerge there as a matter of course at this point (I can’t get away from the tech… as much as I sort of miss the Luddite in me that insisted on sticking with my ribbon typewriter through the early ’90’s).


The work I submitted to this show became more personal as I went on with it, and I have decided to continue working with similar landscapes. Currently in process, a recycled pre-primed canvas (I have not experimented with pre-primed canvas and the dye before). I do like the dimension of control the stiffer gesso adds to the folding process, and the detail I was able to get. This work in progress photo shows the beginnings of the oil glazes over the un-gessoed side of the canvas:

The results on the gesso side (now the back side of the painting) are interesting as well, but I think to subtle for my purposes as of yet:

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