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Northern Roots & Southern Disposition


Blog about the studio, life and travels of visual artist Carly Drew.

Northern Roots & Southern Disposition

Carly Drew



Welcome back to my little corner of the internet! I recently made the decision to get into blogging again. This space was originally started as part of a grad school seminar assignment, but I let it go to the wayside when working two jobs and running a studio took over every aspect of my life. After recently stepping away from one of those jobs to simplify things and have a little more studio time, I realized I miss having something that forces me to actually write down my thoughts. I’m not naturally a writer or a person of many words, so this has always been a challenge for me. This past year I’ve been relying on the crutch of Instagram as a visual diary, which doesn’t do much when it comes to thinking things through little more. I also find it increasingly important for artists and creators to have control over their own digital platform, one that doesn’t rely on algorithms or is controlled by whatever the newest data feed looks like. Jason Lee recently wrote a goodbye letter to his Instagram feed and while I’m by no means ready to leave that space, I completely understand his perspective. Social media is fast and immediate gratification. As someone that spends several weeks making images it’s hard to place them into a context where they only get a second of thoughtless time, then quickly get lost in the bigger picture of someone's social feed. So here I am, back to my old stomping grounds and writing some slightly longer form content that I hope people will enjoy spending some time with. As part of my re-introduction to the blog, below you will find little more on how my backstory has shaped my work, why I make the type of work I do and what you can expect to find documented in the blog over the coming months.


All of my family is originally from a very small town in the Appalachian mountains of western Pennsylvania. I spent a lot of summers on my grandparents farm growing up and will always have fond memories of running through cornfields, chasing wild turkeys and Mom (not so gently) scrubbing the coal dust off the bottom of my feet after walking barefoot on the back porch. Western Pennsylvania is a beautiful, but sometimes hard place. There’s a lot of interest in energy and agriculture in the region and at times those interests create intense dynamics in families. This is what happened to my family after my grandparents passed away, things got straight up Hatfield and McCoy over land and mineral rights. One of the hardest things to struggle with in your younger years is figuring out who you are, but that even harder when a lot of the places and people you thought you knew all change in the blink of an eye. A lot of things were said and relationships shattered that will most likely never be reconciled. The older I get and the more my own stubbornness comes to light, I realize this happens. There are some things you need to walk away from. Things you need to stop fighting for so that you don’t get twisted up and lose yourself. That’s not to say it's the end of that chapter in my life, but sometimes you need a little distance to make up your mind on things. In grad school I decided to start making work about how energy and land politics impact the family dynamic in order to help myself process some of the things that were going on in my own family. It was an incredibly hard for me to pull from such intense personal struggle and put it into a public context, but eventually I realized that in the process of making such personal work people could relate more to the complexities of these issues and connect to the work on another level. The two series that started out of those explorations, Contested Grounds and Will + Testament, have evolved into two of my favorite to date and even though the subjects are now no longer as deeply personal as the family farm, they are still rooted in places that resonate with me. 



While I spent a lot of summers in Pennsylvania, we lived on the other side of Appalachia in the mountains of South Carolina. This region is steeped in independent spirits, sleepy mountain hollows and afternoon storms that’ll make you forget the rest of the world exists. It was here I learned my affinity for red clay and the hard work that came with farm life. Most of my days were spent in a dusty riding ring, cleaning tack and going on long trail rides through the foothills. Unfortunately a bad riding accident and a few broken bones made it a necessity to turn attention to other things so that my body could have time to heal. This is when I turned my attention to drawing, which was really the only other thing I was ever good at. If there’s one thing I learned from all my years with horses is that hard work is everything. I got lucky that I stumbled into the classroom of someone who realized that I knew how to work and showed me how to apply that to a field that I didn’t have the slightest clue about. It was here that I learned not to give up easily and became a firm believer that results are always proportionate to the time you put into something, two things not many people these days have the patience for. To this day the combination of my stubbornness and work ethic are probably the only two reasons I’ve made it this far. Throughout the work you'll see a lot of this show up in the tenacity and patience involved with the line work, which often results in richly colored and detailed drawings. You'll also see the colors of Southern Appalachia in each piece, from the rusty red of the dirt, to the bright blue of the sky and the rich greens that show up after a summer storm. These colors paired with the drama of the heavy and humid atmospheres typical to the South, have all become constants in my palette and daily life. 


Another major component of my work is the time I spend on the road. I get restless. Guess you could say I’m a bit of a free spirit in that I don’t do well staying in the same place for long. Don’t get me wrong, I love where I live and relish having a little piece of mountain that I call home, but travel has always been an essential component of my life and I really wouldn't have it any other way. Part of the blame goes to the constant road trips between southern and northern Appalachia, but most of all it was my Grandpa that passed on the inclination to see the world. He once rode his motorcycle from Pennsylvania to Montana, traveled around the US in an Airstream and had a passion for wildlife and the land that was passed on to all of his grandchildren in some capacity. One of the things I’ll always cherish are the old National Geographics that he used to give me, and whether he realized it or not, flipping through those pages only fueled my need to see the world. So you see, there was no getting around the fact that I would spend a good portion of my life on the road. It’s in my blood and is what I need to keep my creative side going.


Guess you could say I got lucky that a large part of my education came out of the long days covered in red dirt and all those years driving through the heart of Appalachia. The energy and land politics, nuances of rural life and the little bits of my personal history that make up the drawings run deep in my veins. I consider myself lucky that all of these things, both the good and the bad, somehow created the perfect little storm that made me who I am today and opened my eyes to the world. You can often tell a lot about a place and it's people by reading the landscape and the remnants of what they have left behind. Sometimes it's a somber tale of loss and other times it's one of progress, but regardless of which there is always a story to tell. The source imagery for my work comes from my time traveling through rural America and in particular the mountains of Appalachia, is what inspires me and makes me excited to create. Each one of the drawings becomes a part of that story and when placed together create an even larger dialogue about rural culture. More importantly though is that at the root of it all is the moment when I'm driving down those old backroads, breathing the evening mountain air and looking at the last bit of light on the horizon. It's always a good to take a moment to put life into perspective and remind yourself that the world is bigger than you are. 



What you can expect from this space is a curated selection of the things that inspire, interest and directly influence my work rooted in the the topics above. There are a few main series that I'll be dividing the posts into to make the blog easier to index. You can see all of the posts in each category by clicking on the series name beside the category listing at the bottom of each post. Here is a quick run down of each category and what it will be about.  "Exhibitions & Events" is where I'll be announcing where you can see my work on display. "Field Notes" will be made up of notes on the things I'm reading, listening or watching that inspire me. "In the Studio" will act like a window into my workspace, where you'll be able to catch snippets of the creative process, tutorials and what I'm currently working on. Any road trips, hiking excursions and travels abroad will be documented in the "On the Road" series. "Notes On" (which is probably the one that excites me the most) will have longer form posts that detail my inquiries into the intersection of visual art, history, creativity, science and environmental theory. I've always enjoyed the fact that my work encompasses all of these things on some level and look forward to sharing my thoughts on them in more detail. I look forward to getting back into the habit of writing over the next few months and hope you enjoy reading the posts as much as I enjoy writing them. On another note if your story has impacted or inspired your work, I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

To keep up to date please subscribe via rss in the link below. I'll be adding an email subscription and newsletter soon. For more day to day posts, follow me over on Instagram