This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The exhibit of Bryan Daves Haynes’ paintings in the Old Courthouse Rotunda, TREES/WATER/SKY – A Walk Through Missouri conflates present and past to provide a bright new lens for viewing the Missouri region. Haynes’ awesome anachronisms show the period we live in at present as a part of an idealized history.
The exhibit reveals Haynes’ adoration for the past and loyalty to his region. His historical research and unencumbered imagination combine to form an integrated time warp. His paintings are a historical magical reality that allows for the insertion of contemporary people and events into centuries-old local legends.
Through these illustrated stories, Haynes builds a new mythology that connects early frontier tales with respectful homage to Native American peoples then adds the people and developments of the past 200 years. All of this is cleverly woven together into sequential narratives that become celebrations of place.
His illustrated map of Missouri River Country provides a portrait of George Caleb Bingham along with a sketch of Bingham’s Jolly Flatboatmen, both situated between Augusta and Defiance. A string of bicyclists wearing turn-of the-century garb as they cycle along the Katy Trail allow the bike route that was only recently formed along the path of old railroad track to exist in Haynes’ historic/magical time. The Missouri Botanical Garden, represented by the very modern geodesic dome of the Climatron, is featured as part and parcel of a landscape that also contains covered wagons trekking west.
Haynes paintings feel familiar. His heroic history works have been likened to the WPA style of the 1930s as well as to that of American Dreamers Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish. Haynes (fairly) claims himself a descendent of Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry by calling his work Neo-regionalism. His paintings build upon the early-20th century Regionalism movement by including images, events and some of the artistic innovations of the past 100 years. The physiognomy of his figures calls to mind the strong, swaying bodies found in Benton’s Cradling Wheat (1938) and Curry’s The Mississippi (1935) at the St. Louis Art Museum. And like the figures in Benton and Curry’s paintings, each man and woman found in Haynes’ paintings is made noble in the face of an adversity that smacks of adventure.
Haynes’ paintings should not be dismissed as mere imitation. The Regionalism movement that was at its height in the 1930s was also backward looking. Idealized agricultural scenes did not incorporate the most recent industrial agricultural trends, but focused on traditional, already outdated, methods of working the land. Haynes’ paintings capture the mood and atmosphere of 1930s Regionalists, but disregard realities that clash with the aesthetic to emerge as a modern offshoot.
Haynes’ Augusta Herbstfest, 1867 (2013) portrays an actual event organized by German immigrants. This harvest-time festival is populated by unlikely characters. Acrobats join farmers as they dance through rows of lush vineyards. A late summer sun shines merrily against impossibly red grape vines. Haynes’ love of certain thematic motifs and for complimentary colors trumps reality to create a vision that is unexpected and beyond the bounds of possibility.
Many of Haynes’ compositions depict local traditions as grand triumphs. Shingle Maker’s Geometry presents a step-by-step depiction of the 19th century process of putting a roof on a log cabin. The story is told in a counter-clockwise zigzag: from the harvesting of large white oaks, made evident by clear-cut fields within heavily forested Missouri hills, to the sawing of the trunks into “wafer” sections and splitting of those into “bolts” before laying them out upon the beaver pelt decorated cabin. A strapping man works industriously in each vignette. Like many of Haynes’ paintings, this story of the humble shingle exalts cooperative labor.
St. Louisans can find Haynes’ paintings in an ever-increasing list of civic buildings. They grace the Gateway Arch ticket area, the Danforth Plant Science Center and the America’s Center Convention Complex (Ram’s Dome). Just as he ignores historic realities for the sake of his story, his technique for installing these stories dismisses tradition for practicality. His mural illustrations are not painted directly to the wall, but photographed, enlarged digitally and printed on vinyl then installed.