Yesterday I rented a big U-Haul truck to take 50 paintings and drawings to The Annex Gallery, just three or four miles from my home in Fairbanks. My solo exhibition, Kesler Woodward: New Work, Small Pleasures, and a Personal Collection will open at the gallery this Friday, December 2, and run through December 24.
The Annex, founded and directed for the last seven years by my friend and fellow Fairbanks painter Nancy Burnham, is one of the larger commercial galleries in Alaska, and perhaps the most beautiful, with pristine, 14' high white walls, excellent lighting, and a single, simple, open space. I didn't know, when Nancy invited me to show a year and a half ago--and she almost certainly didn't either--that it would be the last show for the gallery. After seven great years of exhibiting adventurous work in a wide range of styles and mediums, she is closing the gallery at the end of December to focus on her own painting.
As the title indicates, the exhibition will feature a lot of new work. Along with most of the paintings I've posted images of recently here, there are a number of even newer ones, among them Sunlight Snowfall, a 4' x 5' view of snow falling on a bright, sunny day in the birch forest outside my studio window. This is the kind of simple but magical thing I've loved for years to notice, watch, and paint--the sun's casting strong shadows on the forest floor even as a passing cloud in another part of the sky fills the air with flakes of snow.
Also in the exhibition will be a number of small new works, among them seven very small (10" x 8") oil paintings of individual birch trunks--Little Birch Portraits. I regularly go back and forth from quite large paintings to very small ones, from acrylics to oils, from paintings with very thin surfaces built with layers of wash and glaze to very thick paintings with gestural brushstokes filling the canvas.
I have been doing thin acrylic paintings for much of the last couple of years, using transparent washes and glazes in an effort to achieve a certain kind of luminosity in the larger images of birch trunks, or to depict wide-ranging sorts of snowfall. So it's probably not surprising that one day a month ago, I realized I was missing the feel of applying thick, juicy oil paint, and in the course of just a couple of weeks I joyously painted these seven small birch portraits.
The third aspect of this exhibition is work from my personal collection. I decided to take advantage of having the large, beautiful space of The Annex to include some works that I have held onto for myself, over the years--things that have been shown once or twice or not at all and have lived on the walls of my home for anywhere from years to decades.
Almost all the paintings I have done in the past thirty-five years have gone away. My dear, late wife Missy had the option of choosing for herself any painting I did, before it went on the market, and she exercised that option with great restraint. Those few paintings, perhaps a dozen in number, will remain in my family's collection for my son Eli and his family and are not in the exhibition. But she regularly urged me, in the last twenty-five of our forty years together, especially, to retain further examples for myself, not letting all of any series of works go away. That was--and still is--strange for me, as I'm always much more interested in the next painting than the last one. I'm completely wrapped up in each painting until it's done, and then focused entirely on the new painting I'm starting. I never have had a hard time letting paintings go, and have been eager to have the ones that are done go out into the world.
So...along with the many new works in this exhibition, I have included a few of those I have retained for myself from various bodies of work. These include two large (5' x 7') paintings from a series I did in 1986-87, of rivers and lakes in the Fairbanks area with the surrounding landscape reflected in the water. Chatanika Freezeup (above) and Chatanika Breakup, another 5' x 7' canvas, have lived on the walls of my home for almost a quarter century.
Tracy Arm ©Kesler Woodward 2001 oil pastel on paper 28" x 42" (image)
It also includes other, mostly smaller works that I have retained from my initial summer as Denali National Park's first Artist-in-Residence, in 2002, and my stint as Expedition Artist for the Harriman Alaska Expedition Retraced, a 2001 Smith College-sponsored expedition retracing the route of the last great exploring expedition to Alaska, in 1899. That 30-day expedition along the Alaska coast from south of Ketchikan, through the Aleutians and the Bering Sea, to the Bering Strait and three stops on the coast of Siberia, was for me the trip of a lifetime.
This part of the current exhibition is by no means a retrospective. It is neither comprehensive nor systematic, but a personal collection of things that I have retained, often serendipitously, for myself over the years. I am hoping that the inclusion of these few works will provide context for the many new paintings in the exhibition, and that visitors to the exhibition will enjoy catching a few glimpses of some of the work that led to the images I am doing today.