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“Toward the Setting Sun”



The focus of this body of work involves the American historical experience

of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The works on paper included under this title were directly influenced through the reading of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” and subsequently, Sena Jeter Naslund’s “Ahabs Wife: The Star Gazer”.  I was concerned, not with illustrating the conjoined texts, but in responding, “poetically” to the images the texts conjured in my imagination. As the drawings were sequencially realized, it became clear that autobiography began to be the unlikely ”lens” mediating my responses to the cumulative historical documents woven into my process


This project has been distinctly affected by the various American histories, private and public, I have encountered in the process.  I have been particularly interested in the chronicles of 19th century women.


 I have been actively engaged in reading a variety of texts, from pioneer women’s personal diaries, to texts illuminating the 19th century history of American Industrialism, the growth of the railroad empire, and an arc of personal, societal, geopolitical, and radical environmental impact. Each text and photographic research source provides a history of the perpetual and various catastrophes, socio-political dynamics, and random events; from mundane to mortal, that so dramatically affected individuals as well as societies over the subsequent century., and may well be repeated in the future.


I suggest, via images, the abandonment of the comfort and predictability of Eastern American social status, for the “promise of fulfillment” and economic success promised to those who chose to be “reborn” within the immensity of the American Great Plains. 


I represent the attendant harsh realities of pragmatic survival, romantic complexity, death, disease, draught, plague and poverty, largely heroically resisted, so essentially imbedded in the fabricated “myth of America” and the “stoic self-sufficiency” of the mythic American. I intend to employ a 2 dimensional architecture of consciously “dyslexic” but, nonetheless, poetically effective, visual realizations.


To put this character in linear motion, and affected by documented accounts of the westward expansion history, seemed like a viable way to animate the humanity of the narrative and, in parallel, recreate the immigration history common to the mid-continent “colonization” experienced by millions, including my own pioneer ancestors.


To construct an allegorical narrative, which might characterize the immigrant saga of the many thousands of individuals who, today, attempt to find salvation within the borders, economies and societal framework of the United States is also a primary interest in pursuing this narrative.


Congruently, I am interested in the formal and material reality of the images that I produce, and the ability of a controlled pictorial strategy, defined through material choices, to dictate emotional and intellectual engagement and response. I am equally interested in discovering the wide and various ways in which a vocabulary of stylistic eclecticism, eccentric pictorial logic, formal awkwardness, and material “urgency” might be used to enhance the poetic theatricality of a “static” image, such as a painting, and enhance the possibility of multiple and simultaneous narrative dimensions.


Exposure of this body of work was organized and hosted, in 2013, by the Plains Museum, in Fargo, North Dakota, curated by Colleen Sheehy, Director, CEO, and Senior Curator.

Subsequently, “Toward the Setting Sun” traveled to The Sheldon Museum in Lincoln, NE , and The Yellowstone Art Center in Billings, MT in 2014.


The exhibition was supported with a 125 page, full color catalog, including essays by

Colleen Sheehy,  critic Michael Duncan, historian Elizabeth A. Schultz, and Prof. Erika Doss, critric and PhD.,

Publidshed by the University of Minnesota Press, 2013



T.L. Solien


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