Modenus is honoured that Eric Engstrom has written a short blog for us sharing some of his paintings. Eric Engstrom developed his passion for exploring after reading Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road”, John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley”, William Least Heat Moon’s “Blue Highways”, and most recently Bill Barich’s “Long Way Home – On The Trail of Steinbeck’s America”.
He has driven America’s old two-lane numbered highways and back roads extensively, photographing vernacular architecture, rural landscapes and urban environments and writing about his experiences. Using his original photographs as inspirations and reference points, Engstrom has created distinctive prints and mixed media art celebrating “Backroads America”.
Eric has exhibited extensively in the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston, Honolulu, and Las Vegas. Several of his works are available as limited edition fine art giclée prints from ArtBrokers, Inc. in Sausalito, California. He now frequently works with architects and designers to develop site-specific regional art for interiors. The picture above is the Abandoned Wood Elementary School in Morristown, South Dakota (Mixed Media 24” x 24”).
His blog, and more pictures, follow.
Abandonment, decay, and reuse are recurring themes in my photography-based mixed media art. In an age where we are re-purposing abandoned structures like The High Line in New York, converting an abandoned elevated railway into a public park above ground level, we should be encouraged. We are excited about re-purposing the old brick factories of North Adams, Massachusetts into MassMOCA a contemporary art museum featuring cutting-edge expressions.
However, the general trend in America is to abandon and walk away from buildings once their purposes end, and they are no longer needed for the commerce that built them. The city of Detroit, with its empty central core, defined by the Central Michigan Rail Terminal and the abandoned Packard and Fisher body plants is truly like a city of ancient ruins. It’s not just the cities of the old rust belt that are affected, the countryside as a whole has abandoned farms, small towns, and industrial plants.
During the 1920s through the 1940s, although slowed by the Great Depression, America moved forward with large public works projects and industrial construction. After World War II, a new expansion included completing numbered highways that connected cities and small towns with rural communities. The “U.S.” numbered highways fueled the growth of automobile use for work and pleasure. The railroads connected cities and small towns, and America prospered. Authors including Jack Kerouac and William Least Heat Moon celebrated the open road.
However, the 1950s and 1960s brought the construction of the limited-access Interstate Highway System essentially bypassing city centers and small towns. Long distance trucks replaced and regional railroads, and migration away from rural areas and cities created a new suburban culture. Consolidation of small ranches and farms into large-scale agriculture, and the changing industrial landscape led to abandonment of many town and city centers. Government sponsored urban renewal further fragmented cities across the country.
Nearly a decade ago, I began driving the old roads – Route 66 the Lincoln Highway, Route 6 (The Grand Army of the Republic Highway) photographing the remnants of the U.S. highway and small town environment. Upon my retirement as an interior designer, I started writing about the abandoned farms and factories, and created a series of mixed-media collage paintings of purpose-built structures.
The art is meant to transform the mundane and almost forgotten vernacular buildings along the roadsides into complex visual portraits that enhance, illuminate, and celebrate the deep beauty in the commonplace. Many buildings recorded along the way are gone forever, and the images are intended to remind us what we’ve lost.