Eldridge is a landscape Zen painter, as far as I’m concerned. Just look at the flowing harmony of the earth and the mountains and the sky and the people. Where does one begin and where does one end. The earth here is touchable, soft and warm and receiving. The earth in Bagley’s paintings is Being Herself. And as long as the people are in harmony with Her, She will take care of them.
The irony of Bagley’s paintings is that they are about the way of life of tobacco families, happy growing a devastating addictive plant for the benefit of tobacco corporations. But his paintings are not about this shadow side of tobacco. The art transcends that and points to a way of being in the world that has passed. You can feel this way of being in the world through Bagley’s art. The art makes you feel at home on the earth, this good earth that has been digitized and abstracted and buried beneath asphalt. Eldridge doesn’t point to a past way of life, but to a way of being in life that is always already present in us. Otherwise we would not recognize the world he paints.
In this way Bagley’s art is metaphorical, point to a time in our history with one finger, and point to a timeless way of being in our own nature with the other finger. Seasons change but our fundamental harmony with life remains the same, if we have the intention to find it.
Bagley’s painting of the earth is almost erotic. The Great Mother lies on her side so the human family can scratch a living in her ample flesh. She is so soft and undulating, almost moaning as the humans nurse at her side. Gulliver would be a happy Lilliputian in a Bagley painting. Bagley’s painting are also stop action paintings. Some phase of life is begging, in process, or ending. Like my uncle’s martini glass collection, Bagley never repeats himself; every painting is fresh and unique but the same Eucharist: this is my body, this is my blood, says the paintings.
In Southside Virginia as late as the 80s when I arrive here, tobacco was still king and queen. Of course, there were tobacco parades with a Tobacco Queen. And every town had a tobacco warehouse where the farmers brought their tobacco for auction. In this earth, the tobacco was dark fired, which meant labor intensive as it had to be hand picked and hung in barns to dry. This was the tobacco used for pipes and cigars. Whole families had a job with the dark-fired tobacco. There was no immigration labor then. And each town carried the supplies the tobacco farms needed. This was a self contained way of life for several hundred years, but it really grew with the industrialization of tobacco. Watching Mad Men you get the idea of how important a cigarette account was.
“What! Cigarettes are dangerous! I don’t believe it…and I don’t believe in Global Warmer either.”…You can see the attitude here. You can see the resistance to change, not only of a an income but a way of life, a world view, one’s essential identity. The Agrarian Age of America was coming to an end. Industries would replace the small farmer. And the farmer would become a product himself, just a cog in some great machine. This is what Bagley paints about. The loss of dignity and human value.
So Bagley paints about Paradise Lost, and I write about Paradise Regained. Harmony with life cannot be lost, only forgotten, only stored in the past or projected into the future where you never get to it.
Eldridge and I track our parallel paths like two weed covered train track; his train is paint, mine is words. He scoured the fields for inspiration while I dig up insight in my house. He avoids the internet and modern technology, while I swim in it. While Eldridge is visual, I’m intellectual. Yet we both see the Transcendent in temporal form. We both have one compass foot in the timeless, with the other foot in time. Grounded by the foot in the timeless, the other foot is free to create, for it never loses itself in form, never stretches too far from the grounded foot in earth of one’s Being.