More Than American Dreams

During my teens Laura Ingalls Wilder’s semi-biographical “Little House on the Prairie” series of books captured my vivid imagination. Her life growing up with her settler family on the Great Plains in the United States of America in the late 19th century succinctly encapsulated the essence of pioneering spirit that enabled this relatively new country to acquire a quintessentially unique American identity.

And though the 1970s US TV dramatization of a part of her life, aptly named “Little House on the Prairie” too, was a run away success, its decision to permanently set Wilder’s childhood home in only Walnut Grove in Minnesota, thus, failed miserably to capture the primordial distillate of having a lone home smack centered in the endless thousands of acres of lush grassland.

The closest that I have gotten to having a creative work draw similar responses from me to Wilder’s beautifully descriptive semi-fictional stories is a landscape painting I had acquired from Niklas Aronsson some 7 years ago. It depicted a stand alone house nestled on a stretch of the greenest of grass that lolled along as far as my eyes can see; enticing me to run through the never-ending field, with the sole purpose of entering that only building for an acutely loving sense of homecoming.

Even then, this sensation still missed the mark by a significant fraction: Aronsson’s scenic work of art is a depiction of his southern Sweden, where the summer lights are genteelly warmer, despite it being settled within the fall of impending dusk; while Wilder had definitively written into her New Territory prairies a warmth that was snugly embedded with the ruggedness of frontier living.

Hers was a home that sat calmly on vast moors with clean and crisp horizons that changed with the shifting light over the course of a day. Hence, requiring finite brush strokes that infuse her landscape with the promise of a new dawn that had heralded in better tomorrows, after a day’s hard won success at taming unchartered terrains.

Hers was a home that joyfully beckoned one and all in her family to securely enter as it provided a welcomed sanctuary from the howling winds at the dead of really harsh winters; where a roaring fire from a hearty hearth had offered much needed warmth to thaw the external chills that had penetrated her bones.

And hers was a home infused with enticingly savoury scents wafting from cast iron cauldrons bubbling over a trusty stove, as hearty loaves of rustic dough rose next to the crackling wood; lulled over by the cheerful friendly banter as cherished kinfolk shared about the highlights they had encountered earlier that day.

Such a dwelling within that pioneering landscape Monica Dixon has most successfully captured in her acrylic on canvases: they clearly crystalize in my mind’s eye the highly charged simplistic energy that had emanated from the undulating plains that, in a cherished bygone era, Wilder had whole heartedly called home.

And undoubtedly, it is because Dixon was born and bred within the immersive fabric of society and culture that defines New Jersey, in the USA – with blood as New World blue as Wilder’s coursing through her very veins. And thus, efficaciously transforms her paintings of solitary houses on lonesome moors under crystal blue cloudless skies into vessels with identities resoundingly distinct to their occupants and their responses to the surrounding land, as opposed to simply meeting a mere need for a dwelling in which to shelter.

Rachel Chin, art consultant at Barnadas Huang, sums up the transformative power of Dixon’s unique artistic talent as a colourist on all who behold her art as well, ‘The viewer(s are) invited to consider their understanding of what a home is and means (too), and how (all of us) as individuals shape the spaces we inhabit.’

Get insightful glimpses into our actual intimate selves as we immerse within snatches of Wilder’s America in Dixon’s 1st solo exhibition in Singapore at Barnadas Huang, 61 Duxton Road, Singapore 089525. Her paintings, collectively themed “A Universal Truth”, will be on display till 10 June this year.

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