Catalog essay by Erika Morawski:
Like many artists, Buster Graybill considers himself an observer of culture who passes through life and collects little details along the way. But, in contrast to the excessive amount of artists who focus on popular culture and current events, Graybill dedicates himself and his work to what he considers the underexplored and overlooked.
After spending much of his life embedded in the culture of rural and working-class Texas, Graybill directs his art toward preserving the exploration of a land and people that are now threatened by urban sprawl. The artist grew up in Conroe, about an hour away from Houston. He describes it as the “piney woods” of southeast Texas. Because of its close proximity to the metropolis and the effects of continuing urban sprawl, Graybill witnessed the growth and change of his tiny rural town. In his art, Graybill reaches back to capture the culture and feel of his small town that in many ways exists only as memories. He collects images, sounds, tastes, smells, and textures from this landscape and defends their memory in his art. Graybill feels the culture of rural and working-class Texas as he knows it faces potential extinction, and he utilizes his work as a means to conserve these memories.
This project, however, poses a bit of a conundrum. The more Graybill devotes his life to becoming an artist, the more disconnected he feels from this familiar and beloved environment. His work then also becomes a ground on which he struggles with his personal sentiments regarding separation from native spaces.
As you talk to Graybill about his art, he often uses words such as “harvest” and “collect” to describe what he does. What he does not emphasize is the immense amount of construction and creation that is involved in his art. In his installation entitled Corn Fed, Graybill fabricated all of the steel structures in the piece. The deer feeder he built weighs about one hundred and fifty pounds, which is on the larger side in the world of deer feeders. This deer feeder sprung from his experience of the pervasive presence of hunting culture in rural Texas. Graybill has strong memories of deer feeders and other hunting paraphenalia scattered across the countryside and displayed for sale at roadside stores, feed stores, gas stations, and even grocery stores.
Graybill’s feeder holds five hundred pounds of corn feed, and he engineered the motor in the deer feeder with a timer set to dispense fifty pounds of seed corn per hour. In some installations of Corn Fed, Graybill surrounds the deer feeder with miniature constructions of hunting stands with long spindly legs. The viewer is invited to move through the space, to experience the changing amounts of corn, and to leave his or her own trails and marks on the landscape.
This element of change and fluctuation, also present in other works, echoes the transformations Graybill sees in the rural Texan environment. Not only is the space Graybill creates in Corn Fed constantly changing, but this change is not solely the product of the art. It is the viewer who plays a large role in shaping the environment. As the artist invites the viewer to participate and experience his corn landscape, the art is also transformed by the interaction of the viewers. When you contemplate the mark each viewer leaves on the corn floor covering, you can’t help but draw a parallel to the irreversible mark popular culture has left on the environment that Graybill references.
It is in this sense that the art of Buster Graybill is not simply an homage to past times and places. He does not create sentimental commemorations, which would make his much-loved rural Texas seem even more eroded and extinct than it actually is. Rather, he constructs spaces that foster interactions, keeping his subject matter in the present with the viewer.
Although Buster Graybill admits that in his quest to become an artist he sometimes feels that he has become distant from the environment he adores, to the viewer he seems anything but. The sturdy, constructed steel forms and organic seed speaks of his familiarity with rural Texas and its culture. And, the flow and movement in the space, combined with the viewer’s interaction, maintain Graybill’s collection of the past very much in the present.