07 - 04
Living in the South has distinct advantages. Language is one, with its soft, genteel brushing of the ear, or its amusing to the Northern ear craziness that can be rough or fine. Beautiful surrounds is another, as our Northern friends prove by relocating. Raleigh has an astounding number of new residents daily. Friendly and personal are still a plus, and hometown business contact, proverbial, still exists.
Another advantage is actively living with our decay. The famed tobacco barns from another culture, another day, are all but disappearing from our landscapes. I took dozens of pictures of our barn before we had to dismantle it on liability grounds. One drawing I did of an old John Deere tractor in a field is all that is left of the real thing. A strip mall in the outskirts of Fuquay-Varina exists there, now, but my drawing, “Reclaimed,” shows it with the Southeastern greenery, briars and vines, growing up through its wheels, seat, and steering wheel. I went every day for a couple of weeks and sat in my car finishing my piece in graphite black and white. So I guess the series began way back when I did that picture.
That tractor may be gone. But not all the country roads that lead up to such scenes have been lost or paved. And country roads will again do what the John Denver song reminds you they will do; they will take you home.
On my last photographic road trip–that’s one where you get to stop and photograph whatever you see, whenever you see it–I drove into a community that looked like a scene from “Left Behind.” The rocking chairs were set up on the porch still, the curtains hung in the windows, the folding chair made temporary sitting pleasure for a grandchild or a visitor, and the spray bottles of some household activity were still sitting in place like someone had just momentarily gone inside. This painting I’ve entitled, “Come Back Soon,” because it is so deeply inviting.
The front porch Southern mystique has faded somewhat, although two ice cream shops have grown up around Coats and Angier that have that front porch charm, and restaurants like Ron’s Barn promote the feel. We just ate ice cream with friends there the other night, sat a spell, and talked with them and the owner of the business who even on Saturday, had been working all that day. We take our grandchild there and to the other that’s become world famous in Angier (or almost, with umpteen homemade flavors).
The first of the series of the paintings is already finished, ready to enter into a show, “Grooves.” This was a stunning building, boasting fine locks and hardware that had been left to baste in the sun and rust in the rain, impregnating the curing grain of the wood with reddish browns and the briars and greenery shooting up green tones into the wood. The famous paint crackle shows up beautifully, and the panels in the doors say it was once a fine house. Why such a lovely house would be left to ruin is a question which begs for a story, and I will investigate that one day. Now, however, it was enough to save its artistry with some photographs and paintings of what the artist sees when she looks at these moments, and enters the once private quarters to merge now and then.
Another picture is a close up of the windows, the soul of a house. Another shows a rake leaned up on the house as if the owner went inside for a meal and some sweet iced tea and somehow, just forgot to come back outside.
Another shows the gate into the garden. Yet another shows the slow dismantling of a fine structure over time and benign neglect.
I’ve avoided the clichés that came to mind first, like Come on Back, Now, Ya Hear? and Sit Down and Rest a Spell. I don’t mind the caricature, but somehow it’s a shield against all that poignant warmth and the pain of loss these pictures represent. I want you to go with me and dip into a simpler time and feel where children played outside, got dirty, knew nature, responded to the dinner bell, and the art of calls and whistles and hollering rang out across fields to other people. I wanted you to smell biscuits baking, fried chicken popping, hear the singing, take part in Catch the handkerchief, Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf, and Red Rover, Red Rover, let Mary come over. It’s the back porch communion with aging parents and grandparents who made sorghum and homemade ice cream, and love so strongly.
My beloved South. The long walks in the woods, the grove, building play homes in tree roots with moss and acorns, roaming in and out our outbuildings–the old kitchen, the smokehouse, the barns. I wanted to draw you in to what was significant in my world for so long, and just a setting like these pictures has the power to conjure back a past so poignant with memories it leaves me crying, still. The aging process itself carries with it a poignant beauty, as well.