BOXCARS: RAILROAD IMAGERY IN CONTEMPORARY REALISM

THE BRATTLEBORO MUSEUM AND ART CENTER
October 30th, 2015 - March 12, 2016

Opening Reception October 30, 5:30pm
10 Vernon Street,  Brattleboro, VT 05301

 

If you’ve ever heard the whistle on a fast freight train
Beating out a beautiful tune
If you’ve ever seen the cold blue railroad tracks
Shining by the light of the moon
If you’ve ever felt a locomotive shake the ground
I know you don’t have to be told
Why I’m going down to the railroad tracks
And watch them lonesome boxcars roll.

— Butch Hancock, Boxcars

There’s a theory that part of the reason little kids love dinosaurs is that dinosaurs are big and scary, but they are also safely in the past. Trains are like dinosaurs but better, because they actually move among us and are wicked huge, yet they are safe because their range is predictable—they stay on their tracks. Mostly.

All right-thinking two-year-olds love trains. And some of us keep right on loving them as we age. We just load on the metaphors and let them become symbols for… well, anything. Movement! Possibility! Mortality! Even if a train isn’t present, its built environment provides a new set of metaphors. Empty tracks or vacant bridges offer a wellspring of allusions as complex as that of the train itself.

Look at the beauties in this exhibit! I dare you not to feel the excitement of night-glowing rails in Jason Sacran’s CSX Nocturne, Tim Kelly’s hulking night steam engine, or Mallory Lake’s frozen moment, Waiting, the flasher masterfully captured in mid-wink. Tim Saternow’s massive West 14th & 10th Ave., from his “Highline” series, may depict a bridge that will never see another train, but its burly industrial integrity remains unchallenged.

A lot is happening in the world of contemporary realism, and I could easily have chosen 50 great works with railroads as their nominal subject matter. But these dozen or so paintings tell the story well, with uniformly strong design (trains, with their rigid geometry, lend themselves to that) and technical virtuosity—from Shelby Keefe’s and Terry Miura’s bravura brushwork to Richard Sneary’s invisible hand and William Wray’s almost volcanic application of paint.

We are in a train station, after all—what better place for this show? So come on down to the railroad tracks—let’s watch those lonesome boxcars roll.

— Charlie Hunter, Curator