A New show of paintings by Rotating History Project co-founder Teddy Johnson.
The paintings making up the series What I May Have seen on Routes 70 and 340 are meditations on highway 70 and 340, specifically the section of these two highways running west from Baltimore, through West Virginia, into northwest Virginia.
The paintings feature personal interpretations I have made of the landscape based on traveling along these highways, juxtaposed with reinterpretations of figure drawings by 19th century Harper’s illustrator, writer, and journalist, David Hunter Strother, better known by his pen name Porte Crayon. Extracted out of their original and sometimes problematic contexts more than 150 years later, many of the figures represented in these works are within an hour’s drive of where they were originally drawn.
The time in which Strother worked was a time of significant upheaval in America. The 10 years before the Civil War were the peak of Strother’s career as an artist. He later was a Union Officer in the Shenandoah Valley and, given his muddy political views and his alliance to the Union over his state of Virginia, was on both sides of the conflict. His work for Harper’s and archived, sketchbooks, many of which are dated with location, document hundreds of people throughout the region of all classes and races at a time before convenient and widespread photography. Though his body of work is a detailed attempt to document the people of the area it is also a product of it’s time and place.
This show is meant to share a conversation I’ve had with myself over a number of years about the complex history these highways pass through and the ongoing development of Western Maryland, Northwest Virginia and West Virginia around 70 and 340, as Washington DC continues to stretch its circle further outwards the farmland and landscape of the past is becoming housing developments. I sought to interpret figures that I felt offer a glimpse of humanity, at once trying to see if I could envision these documented people in the landscape that once existed, simultaneously wondering how they might react to see this same landscape today.