Middle America is vast and mysterious, even to its inhabitants. It fans outward from the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Old Man River. The Mighty Mississipp’, which widens and rages wild for over 2300 miles, snaking from the woodlands and dells, through the plains and crops, before reaching the scrubland that gives way to the black dirt of the Delta, until it reaches the Gulf of Mexico. It is a journey that covers such a diversity of landscape and history that it is almost incomprehensible.
Middle America is contradictory and strange, where a President begins his campaign, where an eight-foot-lumberjack named Paul Bunyan and his blue ox ply their trade in the north woods, where blues migrated north and rock n’roll first came on the radio, where a 600-pound cow made of butter lords over the State Fair.
Middle America is like the topography of memory. These are the terrains navigated by Kendra Bulgrin, whose own trajectory has taken her from the farmland of Wisconsin to the flatlands of Western Tennessee to the plains of Kansas. Her works, like the lands she has traveled, are populated by lonely farmhouses, turbid skies, and the men and beasts that dwell in this expanse of land between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountain ranges.
Except that nothing is what it seems. Bulgrin’s spaces and places, her creatures and figures are all the remnants of her own personal journey, skeletons pulled from the land and figurines from her childhood play sets, the spectral inhabitants of lives already ended, and yet to come. They roam across furrowed fields and domestic interiors, wandering along the boundary between the uncanny of remembrance and the insistent mundane of everyday life. They live within an arid airlessness infused with the foreign energies of scumbled paint surfaces and acrid, hallucinatory light and color.
Bulgrin is an acute, obsessive painter. Each motion of the brush, each juxtaposition chosen and calibrated with the care of someone hoping to map paths already traversed, and yet to come. The paintings puzzle their own rules of perspective and scale, distrustful of empirical observation. They are impenetrably familiar, perhaps because the dreams and memories, the realities and fictions, of which they are born are each the same.
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