Anthology of American Literature, McMichael.
Elijah Shifrin at Art & Critique has written about my barn and rural building subjects in his article, "Casey Klahn: Barns And The Abstract Wizard Of Washington".
Elijah is thoughtfully focused on the abstract qualities of my building paintings. I have carefully tried to avoid being cast as "the barn guy". The reason is that sentiment is so easily attached to this great American symbol, and yet sentiment is bygone content in contemporary art. The challenge has been to de-construct this awe inspiring structure and make it relevant for today's art.
Working against my efforts to keep the barn image down have been a number of forces. Sales, believe it or not, has been a force tugging at my shirt tail. The popularity of this theme and image, the American Gambrel barn, has been so high that sales of anything barn related are a fairly easy turn. The great thematic content that is associated with the barn is reflected by the book cover that has my Red Barn with Ramp image on it: An Anthology of American Literature, by McMichael. Another force is the fact that I live out here in the rural landscape where every farm has a big barn.
Here in Davenport, WA, the barn isn't just American myth writ large, but an actual part of our lives. To be sure, the way of life is changing. The Heath family pioneered this farm at a spot about five minutes walk down canyon from my house. When the internal combustion engine started to replace livestock for locomotion, the farmers were able to build their houses and outbuildings uphill and farther from spring water sources. My family are the third owners of this farm, and the agricultural roots are gradually being eclipsed for a number of reasons. How wonderful for us to not see another house from ours!
I'm heartened that Elijah has seen the abstract elements that are key to these building paintings. Shapes, colors and position are the content, more than the buildings themselves. Don't get me wrong. I'm as much a sucker for the deep meaning of the American barn as the next guy. My father built a barn once upon a time. And, the building in my iconic painting is my own barn.
The architect who designed the Gambrel barn was a flat out genius. The way the barn structure occupies the open land in rural America is stunning in scope and even vision. My barn, which is no longer used for any working good, occupies a side hill and commands a territorial view. I have some pride in owning it, but the Great Horned Owl that frequents it seems to have a bigger claim by virtue of time spent there.
Wolf Kahn uses the barn image a great deal in his work. He has taken it down to the pictorial elements with content that describes the position of the building on a slope or prominence, and elements like through-looking doors and windows, and severe value gradients.
The story of my Red Barn with Ramp image I have told many times. I received a box of twelve "Wolf Kahn" Terrage pastels made by Diane Townsend, and in a first moment of inspiration I made a very small thumbnail sketch with the colors. It was the barn image just as it is seen on the book cover, except that sketch was about 1 inch square. I was in the moment, entranced by pure color and by the tactile qualities of the big, thick pastel sticks. Abstract shapes were the tools, and color was the content.
Elijah has written a good back story to the barn and building themes. The literary link to The Wizard of Oz is apt. The elemental truth of my surroundings is hard to contradict. Wind, sun, sky and agriculture. Can an artist overcome his environment long enough to forge content that aspires to higher art? I suggest not thinking too hard, but letting the hand and eye draw intuitively. Maybe that's the only way.