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Art and the South: Paxton--Out of This World

By Penne J. Laubenthal

When Midrealist artist Paxton opened his recent show at the Alternative Café in Seaside, California, he received a congratulatory email from a fellow artist, photographer Jamie Perdue, saying, “Bro… you were so far ahead of the pack, but you saw the wave coming and now you are on top of it.”

Perdue also made the following observation about Paxon's art: " his 'midrealism' from the early 90's was years ahead of its time and at the forefront of what is now known as the underground or 'pop surrealism' movement."

Influenced by Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte (who would have celebrated his 110th birthday this past Friday), and Max Ernst as well as internationally known artist Nall (another luminary from Alabama), to mention only a few, Paxton created his own strange and provocative world. Filled with strange creatures and alive with brilliant color, his paintings amaze and enthrall his audiences. Like the surrealists whom Paxton discovered at the age of 13, Paxton's art stemmed from his dreams and forays into his own subconscious. To distinguish his work from traditional Surrealism, Paxton called his work "Midrealism."

Even as a child growing up on Elk River in North Alabama, Paxton was creating art. Using whatever materials he could commandeer, he merged memory, observation, and imagination to craft his compositions. Paxton says of his early life in the Tennessee Valley that he came of age in an obscure little community of middle class intellectual hippies --"people with good minds: artists and professors." In 1988 Paxton attended Queens College in Charlotte, North Carolina, on a tennis and art scholarship, but by the time of his graduation it was clear that his heart belonged to art. When he packed his belongings in that VW van and left for Monterey, California, his future was sealed.

It did not take very long for Paxton's art to attract attention. In 1993, he had his first one man show at the prestigious Trojanowkska Gallery in San Francisco, and in 1995 he was invited to show his work at the Art Expo in New York City. That was to be the first of several showings in the Big Apple—the most recent being a show at the Amsterdam Whitney gallery in Chelsea in 2006.

In 1995 when Paxton was invited to show his work at the New York Expo, he was interviewed by Dorine Ellel for Sun Storm Fine Art. The article was entitled Beyond the Surreal, Ellel quotes Paxton:  "He [Paxton] says, 'A Surrealist is an artist who searches for the future resolution of the two states of reality and being, the dream and the wake world. The Midrealist viewpoint is that there is an opposing reality past the dream world. This is more of a metaphysical existence. While the Surrealist was searching for the resolution of dream and reality, a Midrealist believes that the resolution of the physical and metaphysical world is found in the dream world, or mid-reality. Andre Breton, the founder of Surrealism, did not associate his movement with any sort of spiritualism. On the other hand, Midrealism is based on a kind of spiritualism- stemming from tenth dimensional theology.' "

Ellel went on to describe the painting pictured here: "Although Paxton can explain the philosophy behind his work, he never explains his paintings. Working Women’s Shoes is simply described as set in a desert landscape. The moon is maroon colored, on the opposite side, there is an image of Saturn breaking up into tiny balls, and then, in the middle of the painting, four different laughing Picasso faces float in the sky. In the foreground there are two women in green cloaks-- one is breast-feeding and one is peeling potatoes-- with a pair of red high-heel shoes by the table."

In 1998 Paxton was featured in a book called Peninsular People by photographer John McCleary about persons of note on the Monterey Peninsula . Paxton is shown here next to his infamous "blue ear" which he sometimes wore to his exhibits. (photo by John McCleary) That same year (1998) Paxton wrote and published a striking book filled with stunning color plates of his art work. The black cover frames the blue ear. The text of the book functioned as his manifesto, describing his style of Midrealism and his own Tenth Dimensional Theology (much as Andre Breton had done in his Surrealist Manifesto in 1924). First editions of Paxon's complex and colorful book, A Step Beyond Madness, are now a coveted collector's items. Paxon has plans to offer the book in CD format.

This past spring, Jenny Rutherford, an Advertising Design major and senior at Savannah College of Art and Design wrote Paxton that she had chosen him as the subject for her art project in a class entitled "Art and Spirituality." Jenny applied herself diligently to understanding Paxton's "manifesto" and her presentation was an overwhelming success.

Jenny wrote to Paxton: "Everyone in my class loved the subject and I got a lot of positive feedback, even a couple comments from the students like 'I want to read his book.'. The most difficult part was explaining 10th Dimensional Theology... It's pretty cool to think that 30 art students now know of you and your work.. and are even inspired by you! ...My professor is really impressed that we have been communicating back and forth. Because I have primary research, she would like to try to get my paper published."

While Paxton was living in Monterey, he was commissioned along with several other artists to contribute to a series of murals for Cannery Row. Due to recent construction, the murals are now in storage, but I am hopeful that they will be available for public viewing again soon. Paxon''s mural (left) depicting the Aenean Sardine Packing Company is entitled "Pay Day."

Paxton was also commissioned by the city of Monterey in 2003 to recreate an historic mural in the style of artist Bruce Ariss, a friend of John Steinbeck's and of Doc Rickett's , depicting life on cannery row in the 20's. Paxton's mural is located where Ariss's mural once stood. The walk -through park area called "Bruce Ariss Way" and the mural is in the same location as the scene it depicts. It is called "Across from Doc's Lab."

Paxton's art continues to grow and evolve. He has worked in various media, including sculpture and a combination of painting and sculpture. Most recently, Paxton has expanded midrealism to include a mystical fantasy world that is based more on imagination than on dreams. He calls this world, filled with strange characters in a unique landscape, Tridoria. These new works of art add a fresh component to Paxton's already vivid body of work.

Paxton lives with his wife Marne and his daughter Trinity in Seaside, California. You can read more about Paxton and see photos of his art on his web site Paxton Fine Art and on MySpace., as well as the Swampland blog Art and the South. Paxton is now designing fine art belt buckles. See more on his Facebook page.

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