Summer Skies

Artist Statement

I am interested in the interaction of memory, imagination and the present moment. My current work -- a series of paintings that I call "Yonder" -- draws upon my recollection and reimagining of the small southern town where I spent the first eighteen years of my life.

I grew up in Ozark, Alabama, located in the far southeast corner of the state. My house was surrounded by woods, ponds and streams. I remember hot summers under a blazing sun that burned our skin; playing in the woods around my house; daydreaming in my grandmother’s back yard, under the shade of an ancient scuppernong arbor; watching her carefully tended flower beds burst into bloom in the spring, then fade into the fall.

My family had been in Ozark for generations. They owned a piece of land there, about three miles square. My grandfather built a house on this land, my father’s childhood home. Over the years, my grandfather and my father built other houses, spreading out around the first. They also built a simple cement-block structure that housed the family business – the Beeline Grocery and Laundry, named after the road on which it sat. It was painted a memorable, rather garish and unlikely turquoise green. My father and great uncle bought into the Beeline, and it supported three families for many years. My grandfather eventually moved into a larger and more gracious old house across the road -- the one with the pecan trees, gardens and scuppernong vine. He kept up the rental houses, and I recall that community of families as a busy hive of activity, with some folks settling in for long spells and others who came and went more quickly.

The Beeline was at the center of all this. A regular crowd of men gathered in the grocery store daily, to talk away the afternoons with my father, grandfather and uncle. My grandmother ran the laundry side of the business. I remember rows of busy washing machines, all with suds swishing noisily behind the thick glass portholes of the front-loaders; the enormous floor-to-ceiling dryers tumbling clothes and casting off waves of dry heat; and the intoxicating smell of clean laundry that hung in the air.

Beyond the Beeline community was a patch of woods, and my house was on the other side of it. The path home cut across two ponds separated by a high bank that led up to the fields and wooded areas around my house. I walked that path thousands of times, looking down at the ponds thick with lily pads, and the grasses, pines and blackberry thickets surrounding them. I could sense the snakes, frogs, fish, spiders, worms and bugs living there. Through my child’s eyes and ears, the place was alive, vaguely menacing, magical. Looking back it is a dreamy vision, a mix of memories and imagination inextricably intertwined.

I left Ozark 36 years ago. I have visited there once or twice each of those intervening years. I have walked around all the old places and witnessed their steady decline. The ponds have slowly dried up; my grandmother’s house was sold and is in a state of disrepair; the gardens are in ruins; the woods are recognizable but the old paths and landmarks are gone or overgrown, almost past recognition. The Beeline closed years ago but is still standing. Inside, the old laundry machines, the cash register, the "Co-Cola" ice box and the candy counter sit empty and still, in the silence and the dust. My grandparents are dead; my father retired. Tenants still live in the meager houses scattered around the shuttered store, but the little community is clearly drawing its last breaths.

These layered memories form a kind of internal lens, shaping the way I see and experience the present. The more I contemplate that lens, the stronger it grows. When I walk a path, look at a tree, or do my own family's laundry, I am transported back to a past that seeps into my daily life at every turn. It is my intention to make these connections visible, through paintings that fuse the past and present, the real and the imagined. The process is chaotic, challenging, intuitive and unpredictable. When I can pull it off, it is also very satisfying – a means of understanding the arc of my life, with its never-ending cycles of growth, decline, aging and loss. I strive to convey the intensity of this process in my paintings as well. Thus, I am happiest when my work exudes a sense of struggle, energy, and quiet joy.