06 May, 2008

Barn Free

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.

My Barn
Photo: Lorie Klahn

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.

Barn Sketch
Casey Klahn

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!

Violet Oil Drum
7.5" x 10.5"
Soft Pastel
Casey Klahn

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.

Thumbnail of Barn
Casey Klahn

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.

Behind the Garage
Graphite on Sketch Paper
7" x 8.5"
Casey Klahn

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 Heins' Farm
7.5" 15"
Casey Klahn
Private Collection

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.


Anonymous said...

Well written, Casey. I think a lot of Americans feel the tug of their roots when they see a barn. Sadly, that agricultural experience is dwindling, and many kids now aren't making memories with barns in them. I'm sure glad yours are. :D

Casey Klahn said...

Like tossing the kittens down the hay trap to watch them land on their feet?

(Of course, they do...)

Shop Girl said...

I love it when two of my collection are featured in one post! I'd have bought the Hein's Farm pic too, had it not be already purchased.

What did Lorie use to do her barn photo like that? Looks posterized to me, but I'm still a novice.

Casey Klahn said...

Now I know who "Risha" is! Hey!

The photo title told the filter, but I can't remember where I found the photo! I must have done a search of my PC to get it. It's Greek to me.

Just ask your hubby - he'll know which Photoshop filter it was.

Deborah Paris said...

Great post, Casey.Congratulations on the review and the book cover. I, too, live in a place where barns are very real and even still in use. I have resisted painting them except in 2 cases, both of which sold to someone in WA interestingly enough! But there is something about them- unvarnished, dignified in their simplicity.

Casey Klahn said...

Thanks for reading, Deborah.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this was a real eye-opener. And I thought I "discovered" something -- while in fact just scratched the surface! This is a fascinating story and solid resource too, I read the article on the barns in its entirety and added it to my links page. I intend to browse other article in there.

Casey, I've got to admit that I love your analytical approach to painting. Many artists say they don't know exactly why they end up with the painting as it is, citing inspiration or some inner creative/artistic drive that leads them towards the final product.
This method has its merits, no doubt, but it's refreshing to see an artist who approaches his work analytically, and apparently without any reservations about it.

I don't think deliberate thinking can ruin inspiration.

Casey Klahn said...

I learned an interesting thing in the article. The Gambrel (double roof) design examples American mass production methods from the late 19th C. A "modern" symbol, rather than old and quaint.

We have some common interests, Elish. I look forward to reading you new art interpretation guide, too.

I do actualy create from an intuitive base, and then over the months I look back at why I may have done something this way or that way in my art. I guess I do look forward thinking, "I don't want to...(this or that)".

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