In the high desert last month, I became intrigued, again, by barns. And so I’ve embarked on a new set of paintings, culminating (at least I hope it’s a culmination) in a couple of larger, more ambitious studio pieces.
Once I have gotten into the swing of a particular painting or set of paintings, the work becomes more manual than mental, and so I can let my mind wander. I remember many many barns in my life — what I think of as “real” barns, wooden structures with high roofs, set into hillsides so the hay can be dumped in the high-end and then pitched to the animals below, who can go in and out of the barnyard at the lower level.
That’s the classic, semi-subsistence farming model, of course, and has little to do with the mechanized farming of today. The old barns of my youth had hay lofts, where the hay smelled wonderful and scratched and itched when you used it like a trampoline. I remember being one of the “hay stompers,” kids who rode the hay wagons into the fields and jumped up and down to compact the hay as it was loaded by men with pitchforks.
I also remember The Barn, in our little hamlet along the Susquehanna, where a family lived alongside its animals, and various anti-social activities took place. I was terrified of the dogs (and the farmer) who lived there, but I had to walk by The Barn every day to get to the school bus. My favorite first grade boyfriend sometimes walked me by the dogs, so my emotions about barns got seriously confused.
Another house we lived in that same village had a lot of old barn-like structures. One of them was used as a garage for the Model-T Ford that my brother rescued and got running. I remember when that barn burned — seeing the flames from the kitchen window of the house, across the truck garden from the barn. Another structure on that property was a favorite of ours because we could climb up on the roof, half of which faced away from the house. We were forbidden to climb on that roof — “crazy dangerous,” my mother said — and so we did so as often as we could.
Jer and I lived in a house in Kansas with a carriage house at the alley in back. It was a kind of miniaturized barn, sinking into the gumbo at the backside (but since pulled upright at the cost of many dollars, I’m sure). I toyed with the idea of turning the hayloft into a working space but never got around to it.
And of course, there was the Red Barn in Nevada, where I spent 12 weeks painting and admiring the span of the Amargosa Desert out the doors. But it was built of concrete block, and most contemporary working barns, even at old ranches, are now metal pre-fab structures. I understand why they are appropriate to contemporary farming and ranching, more efficient and easier to maintain and less prone to becoming snake-havens, but they aren’t as handsome nor nostalgia-inducing as the wooden structures of my youth.
So these thoughts and memories went into the small and then larger paintings: the two larger ones below are semi-representational, done after the studies above, but expanding on them, an expansion due in part to my rummaging around my mind for barns I have known.
I am writing this on Tuesday and have a crit group meeting tonight. So I’ll get to rework or work another set of paintings, pulling in the comments made by the group where I find them useful. It should be interesting. I also have new insights, just in setting up this post, but they’ll have to wait for another day. –June