“The paintings in Shelley Horton-Trippe’s recent show Carbon are the best of her career. The emotional authority they possess is so direct, damning, and volcanic that the viewer can only step back in amazed silence and let the artist’s sense of truth pour down in waves of metaphorical light, sweet crude.”
The other day, in front of our local market, I met a compelling woman with eyes I could not avert. As she told her story about being a single mom, like me, a widow, unlike me, and a survivor, political refugee, and one persecuted for her beliefs… very unlike me, I was most moved as she described how her husband was dragged away in front of her eyes… never to return… shot dead.
I began the black paintings not long after the world trade towers fell. During this dark time of our recent history, I heard on the radio a story about the Chinese cultural revolution. At this time in China, people would disappear. Their families feared the worst. Months later, sometimes years later, the families would receive an official-looking envelope and inside would find a bill from the communist party… for 26cents. The price of the bullet.
That was the first completed black piece. Years passed. I lived in the mountains. I tried to forget. But last winter was the dark night of the soul… again. All of my lyrical, pastel mountain paintings seemed so incomplete, so false. In one fell swoop, I began rubbing out the incongruities of the work. I rubbed and rubbed. I felt like a bootblack. I felt like a charwoman. I felt like the shoeshine boy and began whistling. The paintings began to reveal some hidden patina that seemed far more appropriate for our time. The mixture of lampblack and oil and wax and spit harkened back to the familiar smells and tactility of my past in Oklahoma. Being a young wife. Visiting my young geologist husband on sight as a well would come in. Gushing.
It is difficult not to be conflicted about our present plight, growing up in the crease of the map. Most people that come out of Texas or Oklahoma have the blood of the oil on our hands. Dear friends, the most gracious and generous and right minded people I know are oil barons. My relatives lived lives covered in oil, drenched in oil, loosing limbs and lives for oil. So what do we do with this conundrum?
I did what I had to do. I painted over the beauty to reveal a more honest beauty. I hoped to reveal the lineage of the patriarchal power that controls us all. I wanted to hear the voices of my ancestors as they sang old Pictish and Celt and Cherokee work songs as they built the wooden derricks, as they made love under thunderstorms.
Carbon to carbon. We begin as carbon… we end as carbon.
Santa Fe, New Mexico, May, 2008