When viewers comment about the work of Lynn Boggess, they often refer to senses other than sight. They say, “I can smell the mud” or “I can feel the mist”. The paintings are not merely descriptions of scenes – certainly they do not denote a tourist’s vision. Rather they reveal an intimate communion with a particular time and place.
Lynn Boggess grew up in rural West Virginia, where he spent his days roaming hillsides and creek beds. His first paintings reveal a precocious understanding of the natural world. In those early works, the viewer can recognize species of trees, atmosphere is present in the rolling landscape, and depictions of creeks are infused with memories and knowledge of what lay beneath the large rocks and sand.
Although his earliest paintings were of his immediate surroundings, Boggess spent years in academia, where he explored phenomenology and metaphysics in art. He studied at Cranbrook Academy of Art, obtaining an MFA in 1980. His paintings from 1979 through 2000 moved through a progression of styles and concerns, ranging from stark minimalist abstraction through complex postmodern layered imagery. Then on a pretty day in 2000, he decided to take a break from the studio and he went outside to paint some nature studies. On a whim, he took a cement trowel that was on a table near the basement door. The trowel afforded him an immediacy that a brush could not. Because the tool could cover large areas quickly, he was able to accurately record a specific time and place. Additionally, the thick paint behaved almost as a sculptural medium, giving the paintings a heightened physical presence. He set a goal to do one hundred small paintings that summer to experiment with the process. The one hundred paintings were accomplished, and what began as a diversion became an obsession.
As he mastered the process, metaphysical theories associated with his abstract work resurfaced. Being on site gave him a certain empathy with the land. Subjects that he found most fascinating were those in which there was evidence of a struggle. He was drawn to broken trees, wind-swept rubble, great boulders, and flood water. That connection remains in his mature work, which is heroic in its subject and process. As the paintings have become larger, the discipline of being present continues. As assembly of easels, boxes, and scaffolds is necessary to bring the canvas to the subject. The work is created in all kinds of weather and on all types of terrain.
The possibilities of texture in the work are now fully realized. Boggess’ complex mark-making serves to both describe and provide content. He works the surface as if he is digging, trying to form something out of the earth itself. He covers layer after layer, then removes and adds paint in large sweeps and rough scratches.
The paintings can be appreciated on many levels. To the casual viewer, there is a fascination with the fact that the work appears photographic at fifteen feet away, while at two feet it is a complex arrangement of large strokes of the trowel. To those who have an appreciation for the natural world, there is a purity in the subject, which denies all references to human interference. Adventurers enjoy the fact that nearly all of the work is created on location. Art historians appreciate his references to Impressionism, nineteenth century realism, and twentieth century Abstract Expressionism. Contemporary theorists enjoy the relevance of the work as it relates to recent discussions about the nature of reality and place, as well as the tension between surface and illusion. Natives of Appalachia experience a strong jolt of memory. Nearly everyone who has walked on a hillside or stood in a wooded grove can hear, smell, and feel the place where the artist stood.
~ Jennifer Hall Boggess, B.A., M.A., M.F.A. West Virginia University