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The Disappearing Farmer

Jack Ketner
SAC 1985.03

oil on canvas


48 x 48 inches

122 x 122 centimeters

about the work

Ostensibly, The Disappearing Farmer is a meditation on the statement  made in its title; a statement which is especially poignant in the  south, where historically agricultural areas have given way, over the  last century, to various forms of industrialization, urbanization, and  general decay. But the relatively straightforward sentiment of The  Disappearing Farmer’s title is complicated by details the artist has  painted into the fore- and back-ground. The title The Disappearing  Farmer brings to mind the tradition of idealization and eulogy that the  disappearing rural South has enjoyed for over a century…in painting,  literature, poetry, film, and other artforms the idea of the “Old South”  has appeared innumerable times. In these depictions, it usually takes  an almost mythic form – altogether more congenial, preferable, orderly,  and elegant than the South Americans now inhabit. It is surprising then,  that although Ketner references this tradition he doesn’t engage with its usual visual trappings. 

The farmer Ketner paints, far from seeming  noble, heroic, or elegant, as the archetypical farmer usually does in  such art, seems mostly rather humble, quaint, and decidedly modern as  well.  This leads one to ask what sort of statement Ketner is really making. Is  he coming to the defense of the disappearing farmer, or just  documenting him as he is? More questions are raised by the multitude of  broken and damaged objects depicted in the background. If Ketner were  glorifying or eulogizing the farmer, why paint him in what appears to be  a junkyard? Even the trees are missing branches and leaves…only the  farmer appears unschathed. Is Ketner’s approach satirical, in that he  represents the farmer as an anachronism at the end of his usefulness,  wherein the destroyed objects in the background foreshadow the future of  his way of life? Or does his cheerfulness and wholeness amid the broken  tools and objects surrounding his home symbolize his power of  endurance, suggesting that he will outlast our age of urbanization?  

Sometimes artists don’t provide a set of clues in their work that can be  used to formulate one definitive explanation, defying easy  interpretation. In these works, the viewer is challenged to create their  own understanding of the artist’s intentions. Thus, one might say that  the fate of The Disappearing Farmer is left up to the viewer, just as  the fate of the real disappearing farmer depends upon our collective  habits of consumption and environmental assiduity.

about the artist

From a biographical perspective, we know little about Jack Ketner. He  has lived and worked in North Carolina since at least 1983, and was  represented by New Elements Gallery in the past. SAM acquired The  Disappearing Farmer by purchase in 1983, following Ketner winning best-in-show for another of his paintings in a juried show underwritten  by the museum in the same year.

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