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Just Off The Road – the art of Eric Engstrom

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.

Abandoned Marine Machine Shop Port of San Francisco, California Dimensional
Abandoned Marine Machine Shop Port of San Francisco, California (Dimensional Mixed Media, 18” x 24” x 2.75”)

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.

Cranberry Screen house Barn North Carver, Massachusetts Dimensional Mixed Media, 18” x 18” x 3”
Cranberry Screen House Barn North Carver, Massachusetts (Dimensional Mixed Media, 18” x 18” x 3”)

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.

Abandoned Red Roof Barn Nemah, Oregon Mixed Media, 12” x 12”
Abandoned Red Roof Barn Nemah, Oregon (Mixed Media, 12” x 12”)

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.

Abandoned Motel Sign Coulee City, Washington Mixed Media, 36” x 36”
Abandoned Motel Sign Coulee City, Washington (Mixed Media, 36” x 36”)

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.

Thank You For Spending Your Day With Us Abandoned Milwaukee Road Tender, Ingomar, Montana Mixed Media 24” x 24”
Thank You For Spending Your Day With Us Abandoned Milwaukee Road Tender, Ingomar, (Montana Mixed Media 24” x 24)”

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.

Bramhall’s Store Chiltonville, Massachusetts Dimensional Mixed Media, 18” x 18” x 2.75”
Bramhall’s Store Chilton Ville, Massachusetts Dimensional Mixed Media, (18” x 18” x 2.75”)

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.

Eric Engstrom

  • http://ericengstromart.com Eric Engstrom

    Veronika and Tim:
    Thank you so much for publishing my guest blog and artwork – it’s much appreciated. About the process that I use to create the art:
    I shoot buildings in landscapes with my Nikon D70s digital SLR, and then digitally “edit” portions using the Graphic Converter program or iPhoto to isolate and recolor elements of the composition. I then print a photo-collage image and paste it to a canvas or hardboard box. I begin drawing new surrounding landscape elements and over-painting portions of the manipulated photo images.
    In some cases where the subjects are interesting from a three-dimensional aspect, I begin building layers to add depth and relief to the images. Many of the recent pieces were created this way. Finally, I coat both the front and returns (Sides, top, bottom) with matte varnish. In some cases where I’m not happy with the results, I co back to a previous step and re-do the piece.
    I’m an artist member of Gallery Route One in Point Reyes Station, California and limited edition giclee fine art prints of my phoyo-collages are available from ArtBrokers, Inc. in Sausalito, California .
    Eric Engstrom

  • admin


    seeing your work is a real treat but being allowed a behind the scenes look at your process and motivation is truly inspiring. We’re very glad you were able to submit this guest blog and hope to see more of you on Modenus. You’re always a welcome guest.


  • Mort Landsberg

    Eric, as always your natural talent comes forth. Both written, verbal and of course the fortunate owners of restaurants that enjoyed your professional work.
    Leisure life has given you an art-form that will give many people an opportunity to see this countries little nuances left to rot on the roads of life in the United States.
    Each of the photos are treasures, as you are to the industry that you have been a part of for your career in design

  • http://www.elportondoors.com Diego Flores

    Ohh i love them, i just have one doubt, is the second one real or is it a painting?

    That is some cool stuff

  • http://ericengstromart.com Eric Engstrom

    A reply to the comment from Diego Flores:
    I’m not sure what you mean by “real” or “painting”.
    The second visual, Abandoned Machine shop, is a dimensional mixed media piece based on a photograph. I over-painted segments of the photo-collage with acrylic paint and added layers and dimensional elements of painted wood, plastic, and hardboard to give the piece depth.
    The intent is to create a dimensional “portrait” of the building facade.


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