painting the "Last Year on the Farm"
By Jeffery Sparks
some who can live without wild things," said naturalist Aldo Leopold "and some
who cannot. Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until
progress began to do away with them." Texas Artist, V.... Vaughan, knows all about this sort of
progress. Suburban sprawl reached the edges of her family's two-hundred acre,
multi-generational farm last year. Then, construction began on new roads and a
toll road adjacent to the property. Vaughan's
farm, (the place she has painted for the past thirty years), is vanishing into
"This reality hit hard," she explains, "I had
expected to tell stories to my grandchildren here." Knowing that her family had
to leave, and that the land had fallen into the hands of developers, she
decided to do something about it. Beginning last summer, this energetic artist
launched her ?Last Year on the Farm' project, a pledge to herself to paint one
painting of the farm, every day, and that these paintings would chronicle her
final year on the farm. "I painted three-hundred and sixty-five small, plein
air paintings. Sometimes I did this in my studio overlooking the northern
sections of the farm, but my greater studio was the outdoors, in the fields and
rolling hills of the farm itself." It was out there where Vaughan felt most at home.
is an incredible achievement. "I produced at least one painting every day, but
within this whole ?Last Year' series there were four groups of paintings that
correspond to each season of the year. I call these my ?24-in-24', which is
just like it sounds: twenty-four paintings in twenty-four hours. Each of these
marathon sessions was named according to the season. I had a ?Fall Day'
series, a ?Winter Day,' ?Spring Day,' and a ?Summer Day' series." Vaughan admits that she
could not escape life's normal interruptions, even for a day, and so the
?24-in-24' paintings were each accomplished within eighteen hours. "This was
not as hard as one might think. So often all you have to do is turn just a
little bit and a new painting presents itself."
painting the same landscape for an entire year it would seem that Vaughan embraces the old
adage ?paint what you know,' but she is quick to take issue with that notion. "I
call that idea 'the comfortable familiar.' We cannot paint something we think we really know. The things I want
to paint are the things that make me ache because I cannot grasp them fully! In
fact, I am most drawn to this farm
and this landscape because it
continually surprises me. Just when I think I know it, something about it
pauses to reflect on the import of that statement. She explains that the farm,
to her, is like an aging loved one, knowing too well that the change that is
coming soon will be a permanent change.
?change' provides the energy and excitement in the ?Last Year' painting
project. "That sense of change," Vaughan
adds, "is the driving force for this
series, and it shows! These paintings capture all of the seasons: the warm
sunsets, the driving rainstorms, the cold black nights, and even the lightning
storms of Central Texas--everything. You
continues, "a painting is all about communicating the impression. Before I pick up the brush I ask, ?what impresses me about this subject?' There
is some instant reaction that I want to capture, so I set about to define it,
then to refine it, and to describe it with paint. I have found, most often,
that the impression is usually contrasts, such as light against dark,
or warm against cool; the more subtle the contrast, the more impressive the
work of art."
Vaughan's final day on
her farm was October 31st. As the ?Last Year' painting project drew
to a close, she reflected on some important lessons that she has learned both
as an artist and as a woman this past year. "Artistically, painting every
single day has made me a way better painter. That is the most obvious change
that has occurred this past year. However, I believe that the best lessons are
those you do not see. These lessons are the story of life. We are not defined
by where we live, or what we own, but by who God says we are?individuals of
stature and dignity. My message, especially to women in the arts, is that our
place, (a land, a house, a family, and possessions), these cannot define us;
they do not make us whole or complete us. And though I know this is absolutely
true today, tomorrow I will probably fall apart and stomp my feet about having
had to leave the farm. Yet, the lessons I have learned this year teach me,
wisely, to simply let go and let the seasons change. And, they do, right on
time, as faithfully as God has promised they would. The ground is barren when
there is no nurturing rain; the sun comes up after terrible storms; the fields
become ?white for harvest' when they have been watered and are ready to yield
their abundance; cows are fed when we wisely put aside hay for the lean times.
For over thirty years I have been the ?artist' here?observing?with a deep
desire to communicate what this farm, and its life, teach." Now, that wisdom
and those lessons live on in Vaughan's
series of three-hundred and sixty-five paintings.
the greater part of 2008 Vaughan
took her 'Last Year' project on the road. The Great
Plains Art Museum,
(on the University
of Nebraska campus), was
the first to host V?. Vaughan's
'Last Year' project. A book is also forthcoming.
one can honor Virginia Vaughan for her painting journey, (and honors will be
most certainly forthcoming), one cannot help but to react to her story. It is,
after all, our story.
Sparks is an artist and freelance writer living in Prairie Village, Kansas.