Silage Covered by Plastic and Tires, Newbury, Vermont, 1999, oil on canvas, 45 x 60 inches
Two readers left interesting comments on my post "Black V" regarding my choice of agricultural implements as subject matter. I thought I'd expand a bit on my ideas, touched on in the post "At a Point in Time, Change"; I forget that many of my readers are not familiar with my previous work or what it was about, and how it led to the paintings I've been doing for the past few years.
I found my way to landscape by expanding my view from domestic architecture, which I painted during the beginning years of my career. Then I found that the landscape that interested me was not pristine fields and forests, but the working agricultural landscape. I set up my easel at farms; in speaking with farmers, I began to know more about agricultural issues, and thought more about the history and current dilemmas of ag policies.
The US began as a farming nation, and we still tend to see farmers in a golden light, except for the corporations of Big Ag. Our national farm policies have created an abundance of cheap food, which is a great boon for many, but at what cost to the health of body and land? can we go back to small, sustainable farms? will our policies change to encourage healthy soil and healthy food?
In the painting above, the contrasts of nature and technology, beauty and raw plainness are evident. There's a manure lagoon in the background, which nourishes the soil, yet can pollute horribly if used incorrectly.
Hay Storage, Central Valley, California, 1995, oil on canvas, 44 x 66 inches
In the Central Valley of California there are huge dairy farms, dwarfing even the larger Vermont dairies. They bring in thousands of haybales to feed their cattle, stored in giant pyramid-like structures. I find these white plastic mounds beautiful, although I'm always aware of the factory farms that demand them, with their thousands of cows standing around on piles of manure in paddocks.
Tractor and Ag-Bags, Groton, Vermont, 1994, oil on canvas, 30 x 90 inches
Irrigation Pipes, Barnet, Vermont, 2002, oil on canvas, 50 x 84 inches
In these landscapes of Vermont, the working tools of the farmer are contrasted with the grand views behind them, views which are very Vermont Life. Real life isn't as simple as a lovely view; it is full of contradictions, compromises, and bad outcomes. It is also full of beauty, found in the oddest places.
Draped Tires, 2003, egg tempera on panel, 40 x 30 inches
Over time, I found myself more interested in the things of farming, rather than its landscape; I wanted a sense of touch in the work, a frisson of realness. In Draped Tires, we feel the plastic tarp and the texture of silage beneath it. This is a painting of oppositions: the plastic, which will become a landfill problem, is preserving food for cows, who will feed us. It's gorgeous in its light, but also looks like a funereal covering.
The paintings I've been doing for the past three years, in their move closer to abstraction, have left behind the overt content of my earlier work, while continuing to have a similar meaning; the implements that serve as models for color, design, and form, also carry a complicated history of land use and abuse, of abundance and hard, often thankless, but necessary work.