Hot Summer Sky, 48 x 66 inches, oil on canvas.
Later this week I'll drop off the painting above at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York, for its 64th Rochester-Fingerlakes exhibit. Hot Summer Sky was accepted into the show, and I was asked to provide a statement to go along with it.
An artist's statement is one of the biggest pains in the ass you can imagine having to write. Always concerns over being honest, and at the same time hoping you hit the mark in what those making judgments are hoping and expecting to read, to have the right artistic gravitas. Yet not be sounding like a pompous ass.
Or, comfortably plopped into middle-age, you can hopefully leave those concerns behind, all but the honesty.
So, here's what I wrote:
Hot Summer Sky
15 years ago I stood in the beautiful, vaulted space of a massive hay barn in eastern Oregon. I was there with my wife, Darby Knox, to introduce her to my extended family, my mother's aunts and uncles. I stood next to her, in this place I'd visited frequently while growing up in the Pacific Northwest. I'd played there as a child, and was left misty eyed over the life I'd missed, in this gorgeous country, amongst people I loved and admired so much. Darby said quietly, Why don't you paint any barns? They are spectacular.
I kind of scoffed at the idea. They're kitschy, I replied, maybe the most over-exposed subject in American painting.
She gave me a bump and a smile, and said, They don't have to be.
And that's where it started for me, a new body of work. Trying to take a common subject and make it something new. To turn a subject of sweet nostalgia and American pie into something contemporary and iconic, representational to an extent, but imbued with the energy and surface of expressionism.
For me they are monuments to people like my aunts and uncles, men and women who greeted the day the same way they did their nephew, with smothering hugs, bone crushing handshakes, and enthusiasm for the life at hand.
As for kitsch, as a good friend of mine says of his prodigious storytelling, The facts are just the jumping off point.