By Bob Francisco
The close of the Autumn season always brings me to a place of reflection. I have to say, as an artist, Autumn is my favorite time of year. Here in the South, Autumn is the time when the heat finally gives up its oppressive grip. The days of cobalt blue sky and brilliant foliage seem to pass so quickly. The season moves on and soon there comes a brilliant day that precedes a clear and starlit evening. On this evening the sun sets with fiery colors and you can feel the cold penetrating the earth. This is the evening of the first hard frost. As the day comes to a close, we draw near to wood stoves and fireplaces, pour a glass of wine and toast the close of the garden year. The next day dawns clear and cold with every leaf and twig etched in a hoar frost. The last of the leaves left on the trees give up and drop leaving many to think that the season of color is over.
I have learned to appreciate this shoulder season when the land pauses in anticipation of winter’s rest. As the wheel of the seasons winds down toward winter, the architecture of the land emerges. The tall weeds and brush in forgotten fields has withered in the frosty evenings and allows for hidden treasure to emerge. Kudzu that has cloaked an abandoned barn releases its grip and allows us to see the hardworking structure that is still holding on in a fallow field. It is perhaps this time of the year, this pause that I describe, that seems somehow most appropriate to render some of these old structures. I am an artist that appreciates rural subjects and old barns. Wooden vernacular masterpieces remind me of our agrarian past. As I travel the back roads, I always keep an eye out for a good barn. I personally love to render the texture of old wood and stone in my paintings. There is something more to these old places than just a quaint roadside relic. I often encounter these places and I see not only a structure but also a glimpse of the soul that made it. Some of these old barns, although very utilitarian, possess such a personality that you can almost see the person who created it. I had an experience with an old barn that was on some land in Middle Tennessee where my family keeps cattle. The barn was in great disrepair but was made of massive poplar logs, some of them over 30” thick. Inside the barn, the various stalls were still intact. One of the main areas of the barn had a log in a prominent location that was inscribed in great flowing script, the signature of the barn builder and the date 1847. I put my hand on the burnished old hand hewn log. I traced the scripted signature with my finger. I felt like I had met the maker and somehow made a connection that spanned centuries. I think it is experiences like this, not just of the physical structures, but what the structures represent that compel me to paint barns.
The painting Edge of Winter is the result of another experience I have had with an old barn. This barn used to be tucked in a little cove in Bakersville, North Carolina. I had studied this very unusual barn for a couple of years before I finally painted it. The distinctive features of this tobacco barn are the open lattice work for ventilation and the angular application of the wood siding. These details make the tobacco barn a very interesting subject to paint. The builder of this barn seemed to want to create not just a structure that was serviceable but something that was a work of art. There seemed to be such thought on the placement of the wood and the lattice. The barn just nestled in its little cove like something that had grown up from the earth itself. I visited the barn in all the four seasons but it seemed that the end of autumn but not quite winter was the time to paint it. This barn had been on my “to paint list” for some time. I always seemed to find an excuse to not paint it. In time I got this most incredible urge to finally do this painting. I wanted to render every detail and capture the texture and soul of the old structure. I wanted to show the barn on a cold, late autumn morning, when the first rays of sun illuminated the frosted shadows. I wanted the viewer to feel the cold and the sharp edges of an old tin roof. I wanted to portray the weathered worn wood and other features of the humble but noble structure. I completed the painting and felt like I needed to go back and visit the old barn and to say hello to something that now felt like an old friend. I traveled to Bakersville and entered the little cove to find the old barn in a smoldering heap. The barn was demolished with no thought or reverence. Perhaps the old place let me know that if I was going to capture its portrait the time was now, late in the autumn at the edge of winter.
One of Bob Francisco’s great passions is creating oil paintings that depict the Southern Landscape. Bob spends much time traveling the countryside looking for inspiration and listening to the stories old fields, farms, and woodland have to tell. To learn more about Bob, visit www.bobfranciscofineart.com