painting & drawing
Over the past year, it struck me that my way of painting might be related to farming, a posthumous bequest, perhaps, from my grandparents, who were tenant farmers. After drawing a grid on a flat surface, I cast an array of marks into it and irrigate them with a gradient of ever-paler washes. The marks then grow in organic and unpredictable ways, retaining the traces of earlier states. The whole field becomes an intricate and incremental record of time’s progress.
This blurred representation feels to me truer to the reality of existence than the infinite number of sharply distinguished, durable things in our everyday lives would suggest. You are separate from me. This plant is distinct from that animal. The earth is clearly delineated from the sky. But if you imagine watching any of these for 100 years or so, they change. Take a handful of dirt, for instance. Imagine it over a century: It will change into many things. In my own mind’s eye, it becomes Oklahoma.
My mother in her childhood, her parents for much of their lives, and all of their kin around and before them farmed the drought-ridden prairie of southwest Oklahoma. They were sharecroppers, too poor to own the land they worked, instead paying a fee to the landlord. They raised cotton, or tried to, until the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the locust swarms set in. After the 1889 Land Rush, three generations of farming had stripped that magnificent landscape of its buffalo, its virgin prairie tallgrass (“high as the chest of a man on horseback,” according to family lore), and its fertile topsoil. By the 1940s, the farmers had thoroughly impoverished the land, and the land impoverished them in return. My mother and all her family are buried there now, in surrendered assimilation with the clay.
Which brings us back to my thought experiment. For me, that clod of earth in my hand blurs into a withered cotton boll and my mother’s blighted life. A bit further back, both the cotton and my mother merge into the parched, furrowed fields from which they arose. Back further still, and the earth’s abundance is restored with the buffalo that graze and blend with their towering forests of grass. In this vista of intimate and incremental succession, nothing is separate. Each thing flows into the next. The edges are fuzzy at best.