Have Sketchbook, Will Travel
Student painters capture the country at CFA gallery
Last summer, MFA candidates Abraham Storer and Andrea Bergart posted an ad on Craigslist looking for someone who needed a car driven to the West Coast. Before long, they were on their way to Seattle in a Toyota RAV4, with Johnny Cash on the stereo.
But this cross-country trip was unique. With the idea of randomly experiencing an off-the-beaten-path America, the aspiring painters stopped every 100 miles to draw whatever happened to be around them — silos, an Amish grocery store, a roadside eatery, bison, telephone poles, a Virgin Mary display.
Storer (CFA’08) and Bergart (CFA’08) ended up with some 30 drawings, the basis and the inspiration for their current installation at the College of Fine Arts Commonwealth Gallery. Titled I’m Going to Jackson, the show consists of a series of wall murals depicting the sights, sounds, and smells of places such as Weedport, N.Y., Geneva, Ind., Osmond, Neb., and Rufus, Ore. The Jackson of the title refers both to Jackson, Wyo., their primary destination, and the Cash tune.
“Going off the highway, away from the rest stops, off the main roads, we got to see a whole different side of the country,” Bergart says, “little towns, farms — sometimes we ended up in the middle of a cornfield. The trip brought us to a lot of places people don’t normally stop and contemplate and draw for half an hour.”
On one of the gallery walls, Storer and Bergart painted a map of America that details their route and includes their drawings from the road. On other walls: large cranes, a monster pickup truck, a high school mascot, plains and big skies, flowers, a circuit board, even one of Storer’s traffic tickets. It took the pair three weeks, several ladders, and a mess of transparencies to complete the murals.
Evelyn Cohen, who works security at the adjacent Faye G., Jo, and James Stone Gallery, enjoys strolling the expanse of floor, taking in the installation’s variety. “It’s just so imaginative, colorful, and clever,” she says. “It perks one up on a dreary day. And it shows a great love of America. It’s a wonderful place if you just stop and smell the roses, which the majority of people don’t.”
The installation’s creators say that among the themes they sought to explore was discovering the personal within vast landscapes — both natural and corporate.
“There’s a lot of art out there that criticizes American dominance,” Storer says. “This addresses that, too, but I hope it also addresses the other side — that there’s still a lot of beauty in America.”
I’m Going to Jackson is at the Commonwealth Gallery, 855 Commonwealth Ave., until February 14. The gallery, which provides school of visual arts students the opportunity to show their work in a professional exhibition space, is open during building hours.
Caleb Daniloff can be reached at email@example.com.