Lindy Chambers paints scenes of “off-the-grid” lifestyles with clarity and vigor. These are not the homes of eco-warriors or members of an artisan movement, but rather the cheap, temporary houses of unskilled workers and day laborers. Chambers uses color to carry these buildings over into the realm of the fantastic.
The risk in painting scenes like these in colors such as these is being considered a kind of Rousseauan pure soul who paints this way out of innocence. But Chambers maps her pictures carefully. She begins with sketches and tonal studies. Her framing is unusual but effective. Colors are chosen to make a lasting impact. There is a sense of spontaneity and great patience in each of these paintings. The visionary aspect promises to outlast a reality in which the houses are abandoned and collapsed.
Chambers is inspired by the trailer houses set off from county roads near the small town where she lives in southeast Texas. Each painting starts from an actual or abandoned residence. She uses oil paint and gloss to transform distressed places into lambent scenes. Detritus piled up in the yards is painted monochromatically; corrosion and encrusted filth do not appear. Time in these paintings is not measured by decay but by the growing things. In the painting All strays are black, a forest is overtaking a home.
You didn’t have to cut me like that features a large oak tree that has been disfigured by the electric company, which regularly shears trees so that their limbs do not weigh on the power lines. One is impatient for a time when the tree returns to fullness. The title suggests there is an alternative to corporate expediency, a balance between the growth of nature and the currents that drive progress. A solution is not evident in the picture, but seeking out such a balance is part of the artist’s project. Shelter and nature are the dynamic in these pictures. Electric wiring is the civilizing taproot of the trailers. At the same time, the “right of way” of the power lines causes intense shearing or the removal of trees—trees that cloak the modest living spaces, redeeming down-at-the-heel lifestyles with vibrant growth and color. And yet this is growth that, as we have seen in All strays are black, doesn’t want to stop at walls.
Dogs rule and It is what it is afford temporary, perhaps even pirated, electricity poles special places in the frame. Their unsteady state is balanced by the vigor and schemes of the animals.
Chambers’ framing deepens a sense of the complicity of all created things in some sort of joint enterprise. Everything is linked in some design. Chambers doesn’t say what she thinks that design is, but she does have an ecumenical vision. Whatever sense of authority there is, whether the trees, shelters, high tension wires or an alpha dog standing over weaker ones, each part creates a balance. Powerful and meek are of a piece and everything is made brilliant with color.
The beautifully colored trailer and rich grass in My place to live shine brightly within a cage of power lines. Another such cage is implied in As good as it gets. But that doesn’t matter to the goats and dogs having a field day on the disused autos and other industrial and domestic trash piled up in the yard. And there is a hilariously funny rhyme at work with the glass backboard of the basketball goal and the windscreen of a car that has somehow gotten up into a tree.
The people that live in these houses are gone off to their hard jobs, or else they are private and stay indoors, out of the artist’s gaze. The evidence says a lot about them. Broken machinery is kept around for spare parts. Tires are stacked up like canned vegetables. These are people saving up for the worst or living through the worst. Bits of comfort show up like grace notes: shady trees, window a/c units, satellite TV dishes. The husbandry of animals is also in evidence. These animals, even the strays, are vigorous, playful, and seem pleased with the lurking places detritus affords them. For all the non-biodegradable trash piled up in these places, the animals create a feeling sort of like forgiveness. Their utter lack of judgment is a joy to see.
Lindy Chambers: Paintings is on display through August 17, 2013 at Valley House Gallery & Sculpture Garden, 6616 Spring Valley Road, Dallas.
also by Richard Bailey
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