Changes in the Midwest landscape moved artists Roberta Condon and Lorraine Ortner-Blake to present together with two series of paintings. Their artworks focus on the struggles, joys, and challenges of farm life.
Condon’s modern abstract works shout out the stark landscape of the Wisconsin farms and fields, presenting vibrant pastels in large contemporary splashes of line and color.
See her series in progress at RobertaCondon.com.
EXHIBIT STATEMENT by Condon
Series: Agriculture All-Around—Agriculture Run Aground
Dairy farmers are facing a perfect storm of factors that have led to the loss of over two family farms a day: falling milk prices due to globalization, political polarization, industrialization, efficiencies of scale unreachable by small farmers buried in rising debt, and trade wars and tariffs to name a few. The state of Wisconsin has been a leader in the nation for total of Chapter 12 farm bankruptcies for the last ten years. Family farmers are being forced into extinction.
I live and work in a small town in Wisconsin. I own and operate a gallery/studio on the main street and drive a school bus. My route winds through the rural farm areas that surround our town. Viewing the Wisconsin landscape is a privilege, but there is a subtext of struggle that I can’t ignore.
As an artist, I cannot focus on either the positive pure beauty of the Wisconsin rural landscape or the negative loss of small-town and rural lifestyles and vista. In this series, I feature both, and I believe it is my most important and accomplished work to date.
In my search to convey the beauty and strength of the farm landscape, as well as the loss of a lifestyle, I modeled my series of 26 pastel paintings on Maurice Sendik’s alphabet book, Alligators All Around. Instead of Sendik’s alliterative phrases like “Bouncing Balls,” or “Catching Colds,” my titles juxtapose the factors facing today’s farmers: “Bucolic Bovines — Burgeoning Bankruptcies,” Cowherd Charm — Climate Change.” Each painting is accompanied by a brief description to provide a primer into the factors behind the loss of small farms across the United States.
Paintings in gouache by Lorraine Ortner-Blake
Ortner-Blake presents a view of life on the farm through her mother’s reminiscences and the memories of her own childhood on the farm. The intimate paintings are worked in gouache with a primitive simplicity. The images speak in a warm whisper tracing strong connections within the family and to the farm.
See more of her series at LorraineOrtner-Blake.com.
EXHIBIT STATEMENT by Ortner – Blake: Farming in the Midwest: A Woman’s Perspective
My series of paintings portray my mother’s enduring memories from 1900s farm culture: waking on a morning when one is finally old enough to wade through dewy fields to get the cows, eavesdropping as an older sister times her contractions while playing cards with Mom at the kitchen table, or getting a step-saver to move milk to the bulk tank.
I learned early that when I was making art for the church I was exempt from chores. I was a Catholic farm girl and it still shows: I am moved by the symbolism of icons and the rural landscape. This translates into the way I now paint.
I embrace a semi-realistic and primitive manner. I distort perspective, overlap timelines, and include objects of personal symbology. The paintings are small, intimate, done in gouache, usually on cotton paper. For me, gouache allows detail; its flat surface is easy to view, friendly. Using gouache allows my paintings to tell stories.
Iconography helps us understand a saint’s life and character; in my paintings, I hope to do the same. My goal is to expand an understanding of personal history, compressing time, reframing and finding the visual symbols for a new audience.
I feel the truth of Aristotle’s idea: “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”