Paintings Capture Disappearing Landscapes of North Alabama

November 15, 2015 Updated: November 17, 2015
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FLORENCE, Ala.—What many passersby may overlook on their daily commute along Alabama 20 between Decatur and the Shoals, artist Sam Barnett finds as his inspiration.

Barnett, a Tuscumbia native living in Decatur, takes pictures of barns and sharecropper houses and turns them into paintings, capturing many old buildings that are no longer standing.

“I always loved the landscape of the agricultural culture and the buildings associated with it, these sharecropper houses speak to that,” Barnett said. “A lot of those are disappearing, so I capture them in photographs and paint them.”

Barnett is a landscape architect for GBW Architects. In addition to being a painter, he has recently started a business making khaki pants called KWADL.

The artist picked up painting at Auburn University, where he studied architecture and used watercolors to render projects.

“I can’t decide what I want to be,” Barnett said, laughing. “I tell you what it boils down to, I like the process of design and the approach you take to any project. Even a pair of pants, there is a process involved in creating it. I like the creative side of making things.”

In this photo taken Nov. 3, 2015, Samuel W. Barnett art pieces hang in the Kennedy Douglass Center for the Arts in Florence, Ala. Barnett, a Tuscumbia native living in Decatur, takes pictures of barns and sharecropper houses and turns them into paintings, capturing many old buildings that are no longer standing. (Allison Carter/The TimesDaily via AP)
In this photo taken Nov. 3, 2015, Samuel W. Barnett art pieces hang in the Kennedy Douglass Center for the Arts in Florence, Ala. Barnett, a Tuscumbia native living in Decatur, takes pictures of barns and sharecropper houses and turns them into paintings, capturing many old buildings that are no longer standing. (Allison Carter/The TimesDaily via AP)

Barnett uses color to capture the drama in the agricultural landscapes. Yellow swatches of canola blend with the greens of the fields, which in turn fight with streaks of the area’s iconic red clay.

He doesn’t only paint landscapes, however. There are still life paintings on display as well, many featuring fruit or vegetables often with a twist on a traditional still life.

Mary Nicely, program director at the arts center, said the humor in Barnett’s still life work is what initially drew her to Barnett.

“There’s a lot of humor in his pieces, I just laughed out loud when I saw this piece,” she said, referring to a piece titled “Granny Had Her Hang-ups” which depicts a granny smith green apple hanging from a clothes hanger.

Barnett said he uses humorous titles, especially with his series of granny apple still life paintings as a way to humanize the subjects.

“I think, if you look at an apple, it may seem mundane on the surface, but everything is God’s creation,” he said. “So I try to elevate them to a new level and by putting them in a painting and trying to respect what God created.”

The humor comes in by causing people to associate the apples with their grandmothers or maybe a grandmotherly figure.

“When you put a personality with a painting like that people can relate to it,” Barnett said. “They can look at an apple and see their granny … it’s lighthearted, not taken too seriously, but it still respects the still life and elevates it to a new level.”