In the new ‘Fruitpickers’ paintings, Lightner combines elements of collage into his gestural painting style as he depicts people picking fruit. Drawing on the farm life he experienced growing up in Troy, Ohio, Lightner looks for inspiration in old photographs of farm labor from his family or collected over time. Here, the trees are bursting with fruit and practically devour the figures climbing to gather it. Rendered in acrylic on canvas, some with collage, the paintings are simultaneously carefully composed and disorienting. The plaid shirts and patterned dresses, perched on ladders are all we can make out of the figure, with an occasional arm reaching for fruit. Loose, opaque brushstrokes bespeaking movement are paired with bright translucent color, illuminating the fruit-like lights on a Christmas tree.
The ‘Branches’ series stem from his grand project ‘Work’, 2016, where he carved the journal entries of his great-great-grandfather, Samuel Ulery, into an entire 40 x 30 ft. box elder tree harvested from his family farm. The diary entries describe the life of a farmer born in 1852, detailing the labor that filled his days throughout an entire year. The ‘Branches’ are individual sculptures of actual carved branches, which are mounted directly to the wall, as if they natural grew out of it. Each piece features diary entries describing daily life as illustrated in these two works:
Kurt Lightner Mon. Jan 25 – Wed. Jan 27, 1897 2019, Carved Box Elder, 75 inches long
“Monday, January 25 It was cold 23 below zero and I done up Choir’s and went over to see Grand Pa Tumbleson.
Tuesday, January 26 It was Cold 20 below Zero and I done nothing but Choiring.
Wednesday, January 27 It was cold 10 belo zero and I done nothing”
Kurt Lightner Thurs. Oct 14, 1897 2019, Carved Box Elder, 61 inches
“Thursday, October 14 I husked corn till noon and then hauled one load in the Crib and one load down to the hog’s”
Lightner’s work deals with the changing American way of life. The loss of the family farm, moving from working the land to working in offices, has deep consequences. Lightner explores the land, the people and the architecture of rural life in his work, finding meaning in work and respect in our environment.
Kurt Lightner received his BFA from the Columbus College of Art and Design and his MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. His work has been included in numerous exhibitions including: Greater New York, PS1 MOMA, Kurt Lighnter: Five Acres, Kember Museum of Contemporary Art, Queens International, Queens Museum, Other Worlds, Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, and A View almost Picturesque and Slow Dissolve, Clementine Gallery. Lightner’s works have been critically reviewed in Artforum, Art in America, Artnews, Freize, Beautiful Decay, Brooklyn Rail, New York Times, The New Yorker, Sculpture, and the Village Voice, among others. He has been a recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, and The Headlands Center for the Arts Project Studio Residency in San Fransisco. Lightner’s works are included in many private and public collections both nationally and internationally. He currently lives and works in New York City.