Michael Paxton | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Michael Paxton

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For nearly a decade Chicago artist Michael Paxton has made paintings and drawings that refer to people, animals, and objects in Appalachia, where he grew up. These images, with their sepia-toned backgrounds and clouded, sketchlike quality, suggest ephemeral memories and open-ended narratives. Last summer Paxton went back to West Virginia to stay with his ailing mother. He says he was overcome by the "remnants of what used to be"--of his family home, the local power industry, the labor force, the towns. During his three-month visit some coal-mine slurry ponds spilled over into the river, making the strip-mined landscape bleaker than ever. Haunted by what he'd seen, Paxton created "Ash Land," a series of nine mixed-media paintings on canvas or paper, now at Byron Roche Gallery. The paintings show empty places--chemical factories, coke ovens, hopper cars, bridges--with a ghostly postindustrial presence. The works are marked, washed, erased, and reworked. Missteps are visible, absences conspicuous. A river barge materializes in the large-scale Pilot, but there's no river--and no pilot. Stripped of context and history, these works represent a struggle to reclaim a place and a time. Byron Roche Gallery, 750 N. Franklin, through April 12. Hours are 11 to 6 Tuesday through Saturday; 312-654-0144.

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