Kristin Leachman: Longleaf Lines
Georgia Museum of Art / University of Georgia
Saturday, Jul 23, 2022 — Sunday, Feb 05, 2023
In June 2020, artist Kristin Leachman traveled to an old-growth longleaf pine forest in southwest Georgia. Longleaf forests are one of the most biologically rich ecosystems in the world, second only to tropical rainforests; however, today these forests primarily grow on private lands and are largely unfamiliar to the general public. Through their scale and intimacy, Leachman’s paintings collapse this sense of distance and offer viewers a physically immersive experience. Focused on the longleaf’s bark formations, her works enlarge these patterns into monumentally scaled biomorphic abstractions. Capturing the tree’s marvelously scaly and fire-resistant surface, Leachman’s pictures also appear singed with fire. This effect points to the destructive histories of these landscapes. Longleaf once spanned 90 million acres across the southern United States, but declined to just 3 million acres after centuries of harvesting for ship masts, railroad ties and turpentine farming. These forests would have been cleared entirely for development had it not been for quail hunting, which became popular in the 1800s. The scorched surfaces of Leachman’s pictures also correspond with the practice of regular burn cycles that foresters now use to maintain the longleaf ecosystem. As both a ravaging and refining force, fire is a fitting metaphor for the revitalized forests of longleaf pine, which today rise phoenix-like from the ashes. “Longleaf Lines” represents part two of Leachman’s “Fifty Forests” project, which she began in 2010 in her adopted home state of California to document the self-organizing patterns in trees. The project is taking Leachman to various forested and deforested sites, protected and unprotected lands, in each of the 50 U.S. states. By transcribing the unspoken language of trees’ structural integrity and biological resilience, Leachman explores the intersection of painting and the natural world. “Fifty Forests” also reflects upon the relationship between humans and trees. What is at stake, Leachman’s paintings ask, as our country continually struggles to reconcile its connection to nature with its extractive use of natural resources?
Jeffrey Richmond-Moll, curator of American art