The four paintings that came together as ‘Young Hunting‘ included an interpretation of an abandoned house I had passed many times on the road between Asheville and Scaly Mountain.
In painting there’s some rule about not placing your subject directly in the middle of the canvas, but doing so sometimes works to advantage. The photographer William Christenberry has recorded the vanishing architecture of Alabama’s Black Belt in just this way- each building carefully centered, emphasizing every symmetry, neatly framed by the landscape along some empty highway.
I wanted the house in the woods to be ghostly, but also alluring. As with the painting in the previous post, the figure in the doorway is not meant to be seen at once. In the ballad, the woman is a femme fatale of sorts. She asks Young Hunting to come in and spend the night with her. When he makes the poor choice of informing his old lover that he is on his way to a prettier girl in the next town, she presses her ‘pen knife’ into his side. Who wouldn’t? (The scorned lovers in these songs seem to always carrying ‘little penknives’.)
A bright spot close to her can read as a bright leaf, or a candle flame within the house. The gold foliage is the very last of Fall.
Fire came into the next painting in the series, and also as a concluding decision. Heavy rain had caused flooding in Madison County. A burning tree beyond a flooded creek- literally the last few brushstrokes. This kind of painting- the inclusion of something imagined into the very real world about us- feels like fiction writing. The art of surprising oneself. Later, when I found the ballad, this painting would tie both to the fact she sinks Young Hunting’s body in the river, and, upon the discovery of her crime, is herself burned at the stake.
I like the fact people do not need to know the story behind the titles for these paintings to work. I did not need a story to make these paintings. That came later.
But it interests me that finding the ballad somehow completed the process. The titles complete the paintings. Searching for it was a kind of satisfying archaeology. An old poetry is hopefully continued by a new voice. Because all these paintings are about the past breathing today. A docent at the Morris Museum of Art, a lady in her seventies, told me she had come to look at these each day the show was hanging, and that ‘they pulled the marrow from her chest’. A smile on her face as she said this. A kindred spirit.