Arts preview: Lightner's work reflects rural roots

Jim Fischer

Kurt Lightner's choice was simple: become a painter or a pig farmer.

Lightner grew up outside of tiny Troy, Ohio, in a family whose farming history spanned generations in both Ohio and Indiana. While he doesn't recall a time he wasn't drawing or sketching or painting, his decision to attend art school, made during his sophomore year in high school, was not always clear.

"I never went to a museum until I was in high school," said Lightner, who eventually enrolled at CCAD. "But my parents were always supportive [of my art], and [art school] was not an unusual decision."

Including his time at CCAD, Lightner spent about 13 years in Columbus before moving to New York City. (Lightner also holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the School of Visual Arts, NYC.) Regardless, his work has remained fixed in the rural landscape of his youth.

"All of my work stems, in some way, from my family and their relationship to the land," he said. "I worked on my grandparents' farm growing up, but my parents' generation are not farmers."

Lightner's current exhibition at Joseph Editions - his first in Ohio since 2011 - features work primarily from his "Homestead" series. The images are at times haunting, with an impalpable beauty - perhaps odd given the subject matter, but perhaps not.

"All the images are from my family's ancestral homes," Lightner said. "My grandparents' house is a quintessential farm house. It's still in the family, but no one lives there now. The paintings are reminders of what once was there."

"One of the ideas I've been working with is the idea of 'cultural artifact,'" he added. "Thinking about society's shifts between what is useless and what is worth preserving."

In a way, Lightner preserves these historical structures in "Homestead." His camera, he said, gets a workout during those times when he is able to get back home.

"I still get back a couple times a year. My grandparents have passed, but the farm is still in the family, and is still being farmed," he said. "Like anything in life, when you step away from something in the everyday, you recognize the importance of those things."

Lightner described the images of both occupied and abandoned homesteads as "ghostly, in a way." The paintings are then done in part with watered-down acrylic paint, creating blended watercolor-esque textures.

"The paint is really thin and applied in washes, allowing the paint to do things that happen naturally," Lightner said. "It creates these veils of subtlety, sort of ephemeral, which seem appropriate for this series of work.

"It's not a new technique to me, but it was something I used here because I really worked hard to use the paint to convey the emotion I want."

The exhibition also includes one large-scale painting from another series, "Cathedrals of Work." This series, also influenced by structures on his family's property, concerns interiors and exteriors of barns and other work buildings.

"These structures are really important to me," Lightner said. "These are very utilitarian structures, but they have an awe-inspiring vastness, like a cathedral."

The sense of passing informs the "Cathedrals" series as well.

"There is a history to these buildings and to the community at large. I feel lost ideals in them,"

he said. "There was a significant act of community coming together to build these massive structures."

This series features a different approach from "Homestead," incorporating layers of paint that boast a heavier, more tangible nature.

"I applied a really thick layer of black and burnt umber, and then picked off paint to make the underlying image. Then I added layers of color," Lightner said.

Both series mark a return to painting for the artist, following a multi-year sculpture project, also involving his family history. After transcribing journal entries dating from the 1860s through the early 1900s made by various ancestors and maintained by his late grandmother, Lightner then carved, in relief, every entry from 1898 into a tree cut down from woods on his family's property and brought to his New York studio.

Lightner will be in town for an artist's reception on Friday, July 22, and a talk on Saturday, July 23, which will be facilitated by Pizzuti Collection Assistant Curator, Dr. Greer Pagano.

"Homestead" will remain on view at Joseph Editions through Aug. 27.

Joseph Editions

Artist reception, 5-7 p.m. Friday, July 22

Artist talk, 3 p.m. Saturday, July 23

17 Russell St., Short North