the little canvas on the prairie

another episode in the creative space-time continuum conveniently afforded by my virtually travelling small iCons series… shown here in the now customary small canvas pose

prairie - abstract canvas - mixed media intaglio print
prairie 2011, 13cm x 13cm

i completed four more icon canvases last weekend, this here little prairie being just one of them, the others i might reveal in due course… the iCons are intaglio prints from handmade collagraph printing plates, individually hand-coloured and neatly collaged onto a box canvas…

prairie - abstract mixed media canvas - by artist jazz green

i am aware that the process of making traditional prints then fashioning the prints into more tactile objects (albeit still vaguely pictorial ones) seems also to embody a rural craft aesthetic… and perhaps that is my intention, that they cross that boundary..

prairie - contemporary abstract art on canvas - by artist jazz green

and where was this particular canvas headed? why the state of kansas in the usa – but i really should have taken a road map and my virtual reality sketchbook…

so, having landed somewhere deep in the kansas prairies, i then travelled back in time, to the dust bowl of the thirties, the association with the wizard of oz a most curious incidental connection in the process, a psychological, imaginary journey conversely inverted… here is another view of my own prairie, perhaps echoing wooden structures battered by a storm, wind-ravaged crops and dark dust clouds settling on a dim horizon…

prairie - small abstract intaglio print, collaged on canvas

[prairie 2011, 13cm x 13cm, intaglio collagraph on canvas]

my virtual travels slowly unravelled into a bit of an american history lesson… i have seen the wild grass prairies, the fields of shimmering gold and cotton plantations, the enslavement & racial tensions, the old farmsteads & migrant cabins, the depressing dust clouds that shadowed an ecological disaster of mankind’s making, dark skies and a slow exodus of people homeless & hungry, straight-as-a-die dust tracks, winds that whipped them westwards, eerie ghost towns & deserted gasoline stations, oil-pumps in skeletal silhouette, herds of roaming cattle, tumbledown tin barns & ranch houses, the rule of law and a sense of order, then a motorcade and a smoking gun, the burning flares of a rocket roaring through the ether, wild rodeo kicks & other cowboy tricks, the neon signs of roadside motels & all-you-can-eat diners serving supersize steaks… from kansas to oklahoma and then onwards to texas – it was all a bit of a whirlwind and i was thankful to be home at last…

prairie - concentric circles - abstract print

[prairie, digitally circularised]

i was very moved by some of the images which i viewed in the american library of congress archives, specifically those that related to the ‘dust bowl’ era – abandoned farmhouses half submerged by soil dunes, seeing only the very top branches of trees, and refugees camped out by the edges of barren fields. i wonder if matters have come full circle again, learning little about the precarious ecological balance of a planet that we want to call our home..

but history also provides a means of painting a prettier picture…

i used to like watching little house on the prairie as a child. i couldn’t remember where exactly it was set, but after a quick trip to the information portal wikipedia i discovered that walnut grove was/is in fact a real place in remote minnesota, but the tv series was filmed in california. i do remember it was loosely based on the true life story of laura ingalls-wilder (whose original series of books inspired the tv series), and i have since discovered she lived in many different places during those pioneering days of the late 1800s…

prairie abstract - intaglio print on canvas

[prairie 2011, 13cm x 13cm, intaglio print on canvas]

so, once transported back to the factual/fictional location of walnut grove, i began to imagine a humbler, simpler way of life in the little homestead surrounded by wild grass meadows and golden fields…

of sweet ma & pa ingalls and the too good daughters who looked quite unrelated, laura’s tears & ears and mary’s blonde hair & blindness, the prairie aprons & pretty dresses, the ribbons & bonnets, the handmade gifts from the heart, the hearth and the kitchen, baking sweet apple pie and the rattle of tin plates & pans, the wooden slat steps up to bed, the belief in the bible, the old reverend and the little white church on a sunday, the faithful horse & wagon, the toil of the land and the bounty of harvest, the bundles of school books and the kindly school teacher, mr olesen the storekeeper, his irascible wife and one very spoilt daughter…

i was also reminded of watching the walton’s (portraying a different era in american history), whose home, by british standards, seemed to be the size of a small hotel (with very thin walls, apparently)… can anyone imagine one hundred years from now watching with some rose-tinted fondness the stories of how we used to live..?

*prairie has ecological resonances with an earlier work in this iCons series, congo


  1. Posted March 10, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    hi Jazz
    wanted to thank you for the link to my website and to say I love the ‘Prairie’ icon above. I’m not sure if I-con is intentionally meant to relate to the meaning of icon in the sense of the medieval religious icons, but the colours and textures you’ve used do remind me of the rich flaking golds and more subdued hues of those artefacts.
    I’ve finally signed up for updates from your blog (thought I had previously – but obviously hadnt done it properly as I missed your replies to my comment in the ‘farmscapes in focus’ post.)
    looking forward to receiving further posts from your journal

  2. Jazz
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    hi mari, thank you,

    i have used ‘icons’ for this series in the general sense of a small, symbolic object, perhaps more significant in the physical absence of something (referring to the ‘virtual’ experience), but it also obliquely references the more contemporary context of computer icons, symbols, signage, navigation, etc – it is also a simple, ironic play on words, in the visual perception of & accompanying titles given to artworks… that’s a brief history of it so far but its an ongoing project…

    thanks again